POLL: Should lion canned hunting be banned?

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Up to 7,000 lions are living behind bars in South Africa. Raised in captivity on private breeding farms and hunting “reserves,” some of these animals are petted as cubs by tourists, who can also walk alongside or even feed more mature lions.

Eventually, many are shot in “canned” hunts, in which lions are pursued and killed in confined areas that make them easy targets. Hunt fees can be as high as $50,000.

The hunters take skins and heads home as trophies. Lion bones and bodies are exported to Asia for traditional cures.

US TV personality Melissa Bachman posted pictures of a lion she killed in South Africa on Facebook, sparking outrage.
Seventy percent of South Africa’s lions spend their lives in captivity. Lion breeding, trophy hunting, and increasingly lion bone trading, are tightly interlinked ventures. Photograph by Ian Michler

As new measures are put in place to clamp down on trade in the bones of endangered tigers, the lion bone trade grows. Substituting tiger with lion bone means that lionesses, as well as trophy males, now have commercial value.

The new documentary Blood Lions lays bare the dark underbelly of South Africa’s captive breeding and industries. The film will be screened in Durban, South Africa on Wednesday at Africa’s leading film festival.

Owners of private breeding farms say that more hunting of captive-bred lions takes pressure off declining wild lion populations.

Not so, says Dr. Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, an organization dedicated to conserving endangered big cats. “This industry pumps out cats to be shot in cages or shipped to Asia to supply the demand for big cat parts. Blood Lions blows away the hollow ‘conservation’ arguments made by South Africa’s predator breeders to justify their grim trade.”

lion_statisticsBlood Lions joins other films, like Gorillas in the Mist, Echo of the Elephants, The Cove (Taiji dolphins in Japan), Blackfish—that Born Free Foundation president Will Travers says “have truly influenced the way we interact with wild animals.”

From his home in South Africa, Ian Michler—the film’s protagonist and narrator, who has spent 25 years across 15 African countries as a specialist safari operator, journalist, and conservation advocate—talks about lions, the making of the film, and what reforms he hopes it will spur.

How did you come to defend lions?

When I was living full-time in the Okavango Delta in the 1990s, guiding and managing lodges, I became interested in the sustainability of lion hunting in Botswana. This led me to finding out about farms in South Africa and canned hunting.

In 1999, there were between 800 and 1,000 lions in cages. When in 2005, I submitted a report to the minister of environment and tourism, there were between 3,000 and 3,500 captive lions. Now there are some 8,000 captive predators—lions, tigers, leopards—in my country. Of these, the majority are lions.

Clearly, the industry—which is very lucrative for a small number of individuals—has grown and continues to grow. Critics are told that these facilities exist for education and conservation purposes.

However, these quick justifications have no evidence base. Lions are among species that cannot be re-wilded after being hand-reared. No South African ecologist is currently trying to reestablish lion populations—and if they were, no one would use captive-bred lions anyway. It’s false marketing!

These majestic predators are being raised in captivity to be shot in captivity. And to me—and a growing number of people across the globe—this is unacceptable.

How do South Africa’s lions differ from those in other African lion range states?

South Africa is the only country in the world that has three classes of lions. Lions in South Africa can be “wild,” “managed,” or “captive.”

Petting of lion cubs represents the first of several stages through which captive-bred lions pass. The final stage: With no chance of escape, the tame lions are shot by trophy hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the sport. Photograph by Ian Michler

According to credible organizations like Panthera, South Africa has between 2,700 and 3,200 “wild” and “managed” lions—split roughly 50/50. The wild lions live in two parks, Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Managed lions inhabit private reserves such as Phinda and Tswalu and are managed in the name of keeping the gene pool diverse.

The South African Predator Association (SAPA) keeps track of captive lions and captive breeding facilities, but not everyone who breeds lions in South Africa has to be a member, and not everyone who is provides real statistics. In our estimate, based on interviews we’ve done with SAPA, and also with the department of environmental affairs, some 7,000 lions live in captivity.

What is the narrative thrust of Blood Lions?

It’s about exposing the industry and its fallacies, and the revenue streams that have evolved. The film is balanced, in that 40 percent of it is dedicated to the breeders and hunters themselves, who get to have their say.

Does “fair chase” hunting still take place in South Africa?

Fair chase hunting is the traditional form of trophy hunting wherein the animal being pursued has a fair chance of escape. These hunts take place over an extended period of time and on foot. In canned hunting, the hunter is guaranteed a kill.

Fair chase does still exist—in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent in Namibia, Zambia, and Mozambique.

In a progressive move, Botswana banned trophy hunting in 2014.

In South Africa, with the proliferation of breeding farms, and the surging wildlife trade industry, there’s very little fair chase hunting. I would say almost all is now of a canned nature.

What’s the likelihood of “fair chase” hunters opposing lion breeding and canned hunting practices?

All professional hunting bodies have ethics in their chapters and claim to have an ethical and conservation approach to what they do. If hunters were to practice this, they should be supporting us. Most, however, seem to be against closing down predator breeding.

The Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa sides with breeders and canned hunters. They’ve tried to make the practices more palatable by claiming that canned hunting no longer exists. This, they say, is because bait and tranquilizers are no longer used. In a play on words, they now call what they do ‘captive hunting.’ But whatever name is used, canned or captive, it’s the same thing.

There are professional trophy hunters beginning to oppose this, including operators based in KwaZulu-Natal. One such group is SAMPEO, and they will play a major role in our campaign.

What changes do you hope Blood Lions will bring about?

The end of exploitative breeding of lions and other predators and the closure of canned hunting.

We reached Australian (and American) audiences with a promo clip that we used to raise money to get the documentary made. Some of this promo was fortuitous in that an Australian organization called For the Love of Wildlife saw the clip and took it to their Parliament, from where it made its way to the minister of the environment. It caused outrage.

Australia’s lion trophy ban came about because the Australian government was incredibly proactive. And also because Australians make up a relatively low proportion of trophy hunters, so the decision to ban lion trophies was not going to affect a large constituency.

In the EU, there are strong rumblings of positive change thanks to the Trophy Free EU Group, MPs for Wildlife, and the European Citizens’ Initiative.

But more than 50 percent of trophy hunters come from the United States. My question to these hunters is: If you are against these practices, then speak out to help stop them.

And young people who come to South Africa to volunteer in lion facilities: please be aware as you’re in all likelihood being scammed into paying significant sums of money to inadvertently help raise cubs that will later be shot.

Finally, I’d also like to raise the ethical discussion around how we treat other animals. We’ve been railroaded by economics and other justifications. I urge that we take our updated knowledge of animal welfare, of how ecosystems work, and the interrelatedness of it all, and adjust our behavior accordingly.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 22 Jul 2015.

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Sheryl Schroeder
Sheryl Schroeder

Who are the 124 assholes who voted NO?! BAN CANNED HUNTING and ALL trophy killings!

Storm Cat

Celeste Watt I don't know. Go ask a hunter.

Jan Bates

Can't imagine a sane caring person even considering doing such an awful thing to such beautiful animals , has to stop right now ,,,,

Celeste Watt

why hunt at all?

Jackie Nelson

Really now really! no words on how heart broken I am hunting should just be stop period all wild life as a right to live.

Helen Kirk

there is no honour in breeding animals as hunt targets, or breeding animals in caged unnatural environments, or killing any animal unless it is essential for survival of that species with controlled culling,

Anne Lewis

100% ban hunting. I am sick to death of these human beings who think they have the right to take life in the name of sport. Animals kill for survival, human beings kill for the fun of it. Our world is being destroyed – by human beings – who are utterly selfish and without morals.

Sophie De Bock

Yes! Of course, ban hunting, these hunters are bastards, sick of them.“Killing animals for sport, for pleasure, for adventures, and for hides and furs is a phenomenon which is at once disgusting and distressing. There is no justification in indulging in such acts of brutality.” –His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Danielle Nicole Crouse

Yes it should be, it is disgusting to think people can even contemplate killing and the places/people selling lions off to be killed should be brought to justice along with the hunters, why is it ok for humans to kill, yet wild animals that are locked up in cages that eventually snap kill the people responisible for their humiliation have their lives taken, if this was reverse and people where selling humans to be hunted would the law be different? What makes us the superior species that we think we can just take what ever we want and not have… Read more »

Dianna Vandenberg

In 1990 I had the priviledge of campiing in South Africa's Krueger National Park. The sounds of the birds, lions chuffing, hippos snorting while wallowing in their pool and the zebras distinctive calls could be heard . The elephants one night chose to test the electric fencing much to our amazement ,The real wake up call came in the morning at dawn the people would race to their cars and exit the enclosure to see the big five , or the rare Wild dogs .We were fortunate and saw the wild dogs with their GPS collars, and the pack at… Read more »

Lisa Bailey

That this is allowed in this day and age and scum bag people want to pay to murder a beast is just utterly inncomprenshible – this is a worldwide outrage – all the peoople, auorhirities involvled should be thoroughly ashamed…

Toni Bissolati

This really gets my blood boiling! The Human race needs to WAKE UP. We need to STOP ALL CRUELTY to ANIMALS and each other. We need to stop eating, hunting, farming, caging, exploiting, torturing and disrespecting ALL living beings!!!!!!! FFS!!!

Karin Saks

Imagine a future South Africa where the people of SA can be proud of their environmental policies. Canned Hunting is reflective of the spreading social illness in SA. It is barbaric, unspeakably cruel and causes many of us to be ashamed of our South African roots. We urgently need to turn things around in order to ensure long term benefits for our wildlife as well as the people of SA.

Mandy Hillcoat

Ban canned and trophy hunting. Protect and respect wildlife.

Nicole Newbury Shaffer

Canned hunting is barberic to say the least!! Tropy hunting of all big game needs to be banned. You should only be allowed to hunt to eat and use all of the animal you murder.

Daniele Pascal

stop the slaughter. Have some dignity.

Aditi Sanjay Balann

hunting of all animals inspite of their form needs to be perpetually banned. a stringent retributibution needs to be placed for those fucking insensitive poachers.





David Peralta

If you want to hunt a Lion hunt it like a real man, with your bear hands. See how well that goes.

Eva Guibert

All hunting should be banned.

Penelope J. Smith

Trophy hunting should be banned entirely. It is a totally senseless act of violence.

Patsy Wonder

i SAY PUT THE HUNTERS ON AN iSLAND AND LET THEM HUNT EACH OTHER DOWN. I think that would be far more sporting.

Patsy Wonder

i SAY PUT THE HUNTERS ON AN iSLAND AND LET THEM HUNT EACH OTHER DOWN. I think that would be far more sporting.

Dianne Proctor

They said fair chase. No chase is fair for the animals!

Michelle Verville Rapoza

All hunting for sport should be banned… ban it! Why do people have a need to kill innocent animals? Animals are so abused on this earth. Very sad to me.

Lillian M Curtis

Canned hunting is cruel! They are tame hand reared animals they have no escape! They are totally exploited!

Mamadog Toni Klemko

Canned hunting has been banned or restricted in 20 states of the USA, including Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. THIS MEANS THE REST OF THE STATES NEED TO CLEAN UP THEIR OWN YARD TOO..

Amy Vogler Young

ALL canned hunting should be banned… No morals and no regard for life… Sickening

Brenda Mehmeti


Brent T Pennell

Subhan'Allah..end the auscwhitz…so so bad

Fran Leard

Where are the laws to protect these animals against trophy hunting? This barberic practice should be stopped and let these innocent animals live in peace as God intended. God proposes and man disposes. This is an outcry and disgrace.

Carol Langshaw

Hate trophy hunting as been said they are all scum


Yes. All canned hunting should be.

Sheryl Schroeder
Sheryl Schroeder

ALL trophy hunting should be BANNED.

Violet R Wilt

I don,t aprove of anyone killing any animals no matter what they have feelings too so please stop the shoting of the lions I protest againts it whole heart aleei wish and hope they can stop this for good i love all animals.

Tam McRonald


Valerie Fletcher

ban all trophy hunting its evil hunters who dont see gods beauty will pay.

Franziska Gerhardt

trophy hunters are stupid cowards

Carol Ann Swan

All trophy hunting should be banned but I want you know why canned hunts ate called hunts. The is no skill involved! There's no reason for it other than to make fools feel good about themselves. This and all sports hunting is animal abuse!

Louise Tate

There so beautiful why anyone would want to put a bullet in them is beyond me

Anna Elizabeth Schmaltz

Canned Hunting needs to be called to a HALT in every country !!!!!!

Gail Garza

20-year prison sentence for anyone involved in canned hunts starting now.

Sian Vaughan-jones

Shoot beautifull photos !!!!!!! FFS x

Paula Martin

I agree with you , promote eco-tourism, you will make more money with that because they are in their natural habitat, people come there to kill them , turn it around to capture them in a picture, much better seeing an animal alive than as a stuffed head on a wall, or an animal rug, are you that messed up in the head??? If you are someone should put YOU OUT OF YOUR MISERY. BAN THROPHY HUNTING AND CANNED HUNTING.

Paula Martin

Works for me too, how would they like it if we were the ones being hunted ????????

Ann Salewski

All hunting for fun should be banned.

Nikki Moo Hamilton

people that hunt are sick in the head and have no morals or standards, it's that simple!

Nancy Hey

Yes, ban hunting of these innocent creatures!

Storm Cat

Ban all hunting, unless it is bare handed.

Mary Cat

Creating beautiful lions, for the very purpose of murdering them in a canned "hunt" where there is no chance of escape, is abhorrent, appalling and should never have been legal in the first place! I can't think of anything more disgusting OR cowardly!