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The furore about Melissa Bachman's lion kill in South Africa continues

                                                                        Aiming to kill

It appears that Melissa now has around 274,000 people who never want her to set foot in South Africa again, and the backlash against her continues on many Facebook sites including that of the Maroi Conservancy where she wielded her rifle equipped with an impressive telescopic sight. Ricky Gervais, actor and comedian weighed in by posting twitter messages saying “what a hunt! – note the typo”.

Predictably, there has been a backlash from the pro-hunting community, telling their constituents that what Ms Bachman did was entirely legal, supported conservation, provided jobs and livelihoods: See Daily Maverick.  A message from CHASA – the” Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa to which 22 Hunters' Associations of South Africa are affiliated” said “We call on those in the media who are inclined to believe they have the right to run with an emotionally charged attack against people who are simply carrying on a fundamental human activity, in a legal and beneficial way to contact us should they wish to be steered in the direction of a proper and balanced understanding of hunting, conservation by sustainable use and the national strategy relating to it.” 

Someone else on the same forum said “When I see people who are involved in the industry actually congratulating hunters/shooters on their taking these pen bred/habituated lions (and other species) I'm actually ashamed to have been in the same business as them.”

Few of all those commenting actually address the real issue – Ms Bachman shot a lion raised in captivity for the sole purpose of being trophy hunted. When the Maroi Conservancy received Ms Bachman’s deposit, they contacted their regular lion breeding suppliers to determine which of them had a lion of the right size and age available. This lion would likely have been petted as a cub, perhaps bottle fed by “volunteers”, walked with by tourists – in other words earned income becoming completely habituated to humans. This lion was then loaded on a vehicle, delivered to the Maroi Conservancy, and placed in a convenient location for Ms Bachman to blow away. 

Yes, it is all legal and allowed in South Africa. An initial challenge to the complete free reign given to captive lion breeders (there are now seemingly about 160 locations holding 6,000-8,000 captive lions) was defeated in court – the lion breeders said the Minister of Environment had no jurisdiction over their activities as they had no intention of ever returning these animals to the wild. Confused, the Environment Ministry took lions off their list of Threatened or Protected Species, meaning that lions have almost no effective protection under the law in South Africa. 

Also, since the lion breeders won their court case, the Ministry of Agriculture has not effectively taken over any aspect of the captive breeding industry. In essence, therefore, lion captive breeding and putting them out in fields for “hunters” like Ms Bachman has very few regulations. Some Provinces have rules about how long a lion has to be “released” into the “wild” before it can be shot but those are easily circumvented – either ignore the rules or transport the lion to a more “friendly” Province where it can be hunted legally a few days after being “set free”. South Africa actually has a term for this – they call it “re-wilding”. 

So what can be done?

I believe that the first place to begin in South Africa is to determine what government agency will actually engage to deliver minimal standards for captive breeding of lions and other predators.

Second, I believe that regulations covering hunting of captive bred lions should not be a Provincial issue but should be regulated centrally. This would prevent the current loopholes where lions can be bred in one Province and then conveniently transported to another where the regulations are most supportive of what is called “put and take” hunting.

Third, I believe that clients like Ms Bachman (they should know all this but might claim ignorance) should be informed by law that the lion they are hunting has been captive bred and supplied to them by the hunting operator with agreement from the breeder. This will alleviate any doubt among clients and will rule out any pretence by the operators that the lion in the crosshairs is anything but a canned lion. This is called truth in advertising and should be applied to any prospective client wanting to “hunt” a lion in South Africa. 

That is just for starters. The main course will be to find the means to stop the whole sordid captive lion breeding industry to supply trophies and derivatives like lion bones to Asian buyers. This can be done by pushing for an import ban of South African lion trophies into the EU and the USA. Something like 85% of the market will then disappear. There are precedents – the EU will not allow imports of seal skins from Canada and Namibia as the trade is based on animal cruelty.  

People have asked – what if you are successful in stopping the captive breeding/canned lion hunting commerce in South Africa? What to do about those 6,000 – 8,000 lions now in cages? 

Well, it will need to be phased out over some years. An immediate ban on any breeding in any captive facility providing the trophy hunting trade should be imposed, and then a period where the industry can be wound down.   

People also ask – if the canned lion hunting stops, will hunters return to hunting wild lions? Is not the canned hunting business actually protecting wild lions for being shot? 

Canned lion hunting has become a growth industry, but does not interest those engaged in the much more expensive practice of wild lion hunting. There are similarities – just like captive-bred lions are staked out for a canned lion hunter, so are wild lions attracted to baits put out by the wild lion huinting operators. But cost is a factor – one can liken it to the shoppers going to a cost-cutting supermarket chain versus shopping at Harrods. They are different species of hunters and there is little overlap. Canned lion hunting can go extinct with little consequence for wild lion hunts – but those need to be ceased also.

So let’s start with some measure of regulation of the canned lion hunting industry. A regulatory government agency in South Africa needs to establish a measure of control. Clients need to be told truthfully what they are hunting. The international community needs to examine their willingness to allow trophy imports. It is all a big mess now, and Ms Bachman could become a poster girl for much needed change, facepaint and all. 

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Posted by Chris Macsween at 20:04

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