Monday, July 20, 2009

I Shot A Lion


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Confession Time

The international scandal of South Africa's "canned" lion hunting - which allowed more than 740 cage-bred lions to be shot by tourists while waiting to be fed last year - is not over.

Last year's total has doubled since 2005 and is increasing exponentially, conservationists claim.

Another 4 000 caged lions are in the 123 breeders' supply line, according to the International Big Cats Rescue movement - and more are available over the borders in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Many of those borders are porous and rarely policed, except at stolen-car-smuggling points. Locals move whatever they want across the Limpopo.

Tourists have been paying fees of between $22 000 (R181 500) and $60 000 (R495 000) for the trophy killing of a lion.

Most are not hunters, an industry insider said. "I had one of them who thought he would be allowed to shoot the beast in his feeding cage between the bars. Some don't like to get out of the vehicle to shoot. They just want the skin, the head and the boast - 'I shot a lion in Africa'."

Three years ago new legislation was passed to ameliorate this lucrative tourist attraction. Now cage-bred lions must first be freed to adapt to the wild within legal hunting properties "in an extensive wildlife system" for at least two years before being sold as easy targets.

The new law aimed at introducing the principle of a hunting "fair chase" to killing animals that had been fed by humans all their lives and kept in restricted compounds.

The SA Predator Breeders' Association and two independent breeders brought a high court action to dismiss the new legislation, pleading that it would ruin their industry and cost 4 000 people their jobs.

They lost the case. But now concerned conservationists and action groups that worked to establish the new two-years-in-the-wild clause fear it is too easy to ignore.

South Africa has a large number of new and well-intentioned laws that have proved to be unenforcable. The lack of trained and competent civil servants, corruption and an overstrained police force have already hamstrung important reforms.

Breeders

And while canned lion breeders are present in every province, last year's scores were led by North-West Province, with 637 lions out of an estimated 740 killed there. This concentration of the practice in one province argues the strength of local support in law-breaking - and easy border breaking - which will enable the $14 million-$42m (R115m-R346m) a year industry to survive.

Canned lion breeders justify their industry's survival with a number of claims.

They say they are helping to ensure the survival of the lion while the Zimbabwean army has almost wiped out their country's Big Five wild animals for their meat and hides.

Other African countries have lost the battle against poachers - they now rely on breeders to restock their parks and keep the tourists coming.

Even the Kruger National Park has problems, say the breeders. Most of their lions are tubercular and short-lived, the hunters claim. Infection-free caged-breeding can replace them.

Yes, but can't the parks take care of this themselves?

Canned lion hunting can continue on a moral basis with only six months of survival out of the cage or paddock instead of the required two years, they believe.

But others say this is a reluctant and easily faked means to save on the expensive game-proof fencing of their game farms. Also, say conservationists, it is a way of saving money because it's cheaper to feed cage-reared lions cheap abattoir scraps instead of live eland or gazelle.

Mozambique has no policed restrictions on canned lion hunting yet breeders claim lions are still thriving in the country, except where the Zimbabwean army makes incursions.

I met my first caged-lions for trophy-hunting years ago in Zambia. Some 11 of them were kept in an old wired tennis court on an unfenced farm 15km outside Lusaka.

All the lions were named Fred, the breeder explained, because that helped conceal their inevitable fates from his young children. Freds came and went and the kids lost track of their favourites.

Bob, the breeder, moved to South Africa but eventually, sickened by the business, abandoned it for specialised theme safaris - fishing and bird watching, from which he makes a comfortable living.

"What wasn't disgusting about it was just a bad-taste joke for any real hunter," he said.

Good show

"Some hero from Colorado, Texas or Sweden would turn up with lots of dollars and the compulsory .375 rifle and we always put on a good show for him."

His farm was divided into five camps of bush all encircled by dirt roads. The roads were swept smooth by towing an old tarpaulin behind a Landrover after a cage-lion was transported to one of the camps and released.

"The next morning my guys would report exactly where he was - usually just where we had left him - by checking for any tracks crossing the dirt roads.

"There he would be, waiting for someone to bring him his breakfast, while we gave the client his show in another camp - we would make him crawl around the bushes for an hour or so.

"Then we would whiz him away to follow a pretend-sighting from one of my guys.

"Finally, around lunch time we would take him up to Fred, who would walk towards us, expecting his lunch. I would cover the client from the side while he shot Fred from about thirty paces with a telescopic sight. Big deal. Clap him on the back. What a shot! What a lion! Finish off Fred if necessary.

"Then we would take him off for a good lunch while Fred went to be skinned and prepared for trophies."

Bob still believes that properly planned, sustainable "real hunting" can be part of the future of wildlife.

As the great wildlife preservation pioneer, Johnny Uys, who saved the huge Luangwa Park in Zambia from abandonment said: "Wild animals will not survive without benefit given to and value believed in by the people who live around them."

But population growth is accelerating the pressures on Africa's wildlife reserves. It is time to re-evaluate the belief that controlled trophy hunting is essential to wildlife survival.

The debate continues.

So does the killing of canned lions.

6 Opinion(s):

FishEagle said...

I am a staunch supporter of hunting when it is done in the right way, i.e. when the animal has a greater chance of survival than being killed. No amount of books or stories in the world can convey the message better than a hunting or fishing experience that people are dependent on nature. Canned lion hunters get nothing out of the experience. I don't even think they can fool themselves about how shameful their actions are.

Ranger Tom said...

This sickens me. I grew up hunting in the Appalachian mountains of Pennslyvania.

To me this isn't hunting at all.

Anonymous said...

What kind of pervert would take pleasure in gunning down such a magnificent beast in the first place? Is that what goes through your mind when you see a beautiful wild animal in it's natural environment? Oh yes, I'd like to put a bullet through that and kill it! You so called 'hunters' need to take a good long look inwards, because you are full of disturbing urges, I wouldn't leave my kids alone with people like you. And yet you criticise 'canned hunting' as if it's any worse than what you yourselves happily do.

Vanilla Ice said...

@Anon 7:37. Thanks for your opinion. As you may well be aware, this site consists of a broad spectrum of people, so don't assume guilt by association.

FishEagle said...

@Anon, 'Is that what goes through your mind when you see a beautiful wild animal in it's natural environment? Oh yes, I'd like to put a bullet through that and kill it! You so called 'hunters' need to take a good long look inwards, because you are full of disturbing urges..'

You risk turning the environment into a pretty thing that is only good for your personal enjoyment, like a useless little trinket. It is because of people like you that I am such a staunch supporter of hunting.

mikecleo said...

Weighing the morals of a person who participates in a canned lion hunt is a waste of your and my time. The bottom line is that there will always be the rich, unethical, unmoral person who will participate, if they can. It is up to the Government to pass laws on the ethics of hunting. Write to your Gov't and use your time effectively. Does anyone have the address?