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Canned lion hunting, the Appeals Court and complacency

Bad news from South Africa

 An appeals court handed down an opinion to remove a major obstacle to the practice of canned lion “hunting”. Canned “hunting” uses lions bred in captivity to be shot by “hunters”. The court decision seems to have woken a somnolent South African public to the reality that much more action needs to be taken to rid the country of a disgusting practice, and here we call on a stance to be taken by what might seem at first an unusual collaborator.

Initial optimism misplaced 

The optimism expressed in this clip of a 2007 CNN report (warning, this video contains disturbing content) was misplaced. A recent decision by the South African Supreme Court of Appeals in favour of the SA Predator Breeder’s Association has made headlines and blog sites all over the world, and lions are in the thick of it. Basically, what led to the Court decision was a determination made about four years ago by the then SA Minister of Environmental Affairs (Marthinus van Schalkwyk) that captive bred lions had to be released into a wild area for 24 months before they could be “hunted”. This determination seemed like a major blow to the canned “hunting” industry, accused of shoving captive bred lions into enclosures just before they were shot by the “hunters”, accused of drugging the lions so they would make an easy target, accused of allowing “hunters” to shoot them in cages, and accused of a wide variety of animal abuses and cruelties during the breeding process. However, the breeders challenged the 24 month rule and won, with the Court pronouncing that the Minister did not take a “rational decision”.

 Other aspects of the breeders’ appeal were not overturned, and it is yet unclear whether the practice of canned “hunting” will go on as before (they were allowed to carry on with business as usual while the case was on appeal). The Ministry is apparently “studying” the ruling.

Don’t blame the Court

 Public condemnation has focused on the Court decision, but that is simplistic. The Ministry did not do their homework properly, and the determination of 24 months was in fact arbitrary. Apparently no facts were presented to support why it should be 24 months instead of 15 or 19 or 28 or any other number. The captive-bred lion, not having any idea of how to fend for itself, would have to be fed during that time, and while its quality of life would surely have improved by being out of a cage, its fate was still sealed. And who would be there to monitor that it had in fact been released 24 months ago? Or that the lion shot was not a recently released stand-in for a 24 month lion kept around for the appearance of compliance? The Ministry presented a weak case, and the breeders’ lawyers were quick to capitalize on it. Instead of attacking the problem head on – the very issue of being allowed to breed a lion to be shot – the Ministry beat around the bush, literally.

 Nevertheless, there is now renewed interest in the canned “hunting” issue, and the SA public is once again tasked to “do something”. Unfortunately, it was large-scale complacency that allowed the canned lion “hunting” phenomenon to mushroom into what it is now. Such complacency exists both within South Africa and abroad, where most people have not heard of the practice and do not know what canned “hunting” means. That is regrettable, as the export market is big business and fueled by overseas demand for cut-rate lion trophies on their walls and floors.

The scope of canned “hunting”

 Canned lion “hunting”, according to CITES export figures, was a relatively small business at the turn of the century with 20 trophies exported in 1999 and 33 in 2000. From there it showed steady growth, culminating in 683 trophies exported in 2008. The figure for 2009 (the last available from CITES) shows a sharp drop to 194 exports, likely because the bargain-basement lion “hunter” felt the economic pinch of the financial crisis. CITES lists a total of 2439 canned lions exported to 48 countries in the last decade, with the top 3 importers being the USA (1383 trophies), Spain (316), and Russia (76). Seems it would be a good idea to do some awareness raising in the USA?

A potential ally?

 An organization that has remained remarkably silent on the issue (along with WWF-SA I might add) is PHASA – the South African Professional Hunter’s Association. Supposedly, there is widespread disgust of canned “hunting” among professional hunters as it sullies their image. In addition, PHASA has a set of principles by which they are guided. Their Mission Statement says the following: “PHASA supports the conservation and ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, for the benefit of current and future generations, through the promotion of ethical hunting”. Canned “hunting” is not ethical. Also, the PHASA Code of Conduct states: “Each member of PHASA shall commit himself, upon acceptance of membership, to this Code of Conduct whereby he shall conduct himself in a manner which will reflect honesty, integrity and morality and shall not allow material gain to supersede such principles”. And finally, under Aims and Objectives, members are encouraged “to promote and market South Africa as a leading international hunting destination”. Difficult to achieve in a country that allows canned lion “hunting”?

 The PHASA Code of Conduct should certainly deny membership of any breeder or rancher involved in canned “hunting”, and perhaps PHASA should do some scrutinizing of their current members.

Principles and guidelines

 In addition, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs recently published the “Draft Norms and Standards for the Regulation of the Hunting Industry in South Africa” (Government Gazette, Vol. 534, 11 Dec 2009, No. 32798). In this document, the Minister proposes such Guiding Principles as “promoting ethical hunting with fair chase as a foundation of hunting practices” and “promoting the avoidance of unnecessary stress to and suffering by animals”. Fair chase being the principle whereby an animal has the chance of eluding the hunter. The Minister also proposes guidelines for Ethical Conduct and Good Practice, including criteria for the hunting of wild animals with humane methods.

It might take some guts

 PHASA should no longer sit on the fence and remain silent, thereby effectively condoning the practice. Their public condemnation might actually dissuade some wannabe canned lion “hunters” to reconsider their safari. PHASA might say that the Ministry proposals and their own codes of conduct pertain to the hunting of wild animals, but it seems to me you cannot have two standards for hunting being applied in South Africa: on the one hand the Ministry and PHASA encouraging a set of morals, ethics, and fair chase, and on the other hand canned “hunting” that is the antithesis of such practices. Will PHASA have the guts to do it? Will they make a stand on the “ethics” of hunting they swear by and espouse?


Note: LionAid has been advised in the past that the practice of canned “hunting” should not be condemned by an organization such as ours, since “it takes the pressure off” wild populations with which we are primarily concerned. There is no evidence for this surprising statement, as over the past ten years, the numbers of wild and captive bred lions exported as trophies from South Africa have risen (and fallen in 2009) in tandem. In fact, a canned “hunter” might go home with the promise to him/herself that the next time it will be a “real” hunt. Needless to say, we are strongly opposed to both.

 The very existence of canned lion “hunting” in South Africa reflects badly on that nation’s wildlife authorities, conservation organizations, and the people themselves. Yet 48 of the world’s nations indirectly condone the practice by allowing imports of such trophies. South Africa should be in the front line to condemn the practice, but the rest of us can take effective action as well.


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Posted by Pieter Kat at 10:34

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