The business of canned hunting 🦁

Posted by Roho Rafiki on

Canned Lion cubs

The hunting of animals is a highly emotive subject which has caused fierce debates for decades; both sides expressing and justifying their point of view and reasoning, strongly.

It important to differentiate between hunting and poaching.

To be clear, hunting is described as searching for and killing an animal legally, whereas poaching is the illegal hunting of an animal.

The focus of this article is on the business of canned hunting.

So, what is canned hunting?

“The act of putting an animal, tame or wild, into a small enclosure and having a hunter pay a large amount of money to shoot the animal.”

Canned hunting lions are the most sought-after form of prize in this industry. These lions are bred in captivity specifically for the purpose of being shot in a small enclosure in exchange for money. Reasons range from human entertainment, as a trophy, or for their bones to be used as ingredients for placebo concoctions in Eastern remedies, and not, traditionally, to feed or clothe a family or community, or control species numbers.

Alarmingly, wild lions have decreased from 75,000 in 1980 to less than 3,500 now. Globally numbers have also decreased from 200,000 wild lions worldwide, to under 20,000 in 2021.

Lions, amongst other species, are facing a dramatic decline according to statistics; and those bred in captivity for canned hunting, or for the rebranded experiences of “ranch type hunts” or “high fence hunting” on private land, now greatly outnumber lions remaining in the wild.

It is believed there are approximately around 8-12,000 lions in an estimated 250+ breeding facilities across South Africa alone. Canned hunting is a thriving industry especially across Southern Africa and the United States of America.

The practice of canned hunting is also seen as a closed system by Governments as it has nothing to do with conserving wildlife as the lions were never wild to begin with. No licences or qualifications are needed to kill a lion, or to own and run such a facility that contributes to a $200 million-dollar industry.

So how does it work?

Cubs are removed from their mother within a few days of birth bringing the mother back into oestrus to birth further litters. The cubs are kept in confinement, hand-reared and petted in infancy, and later “walked” with tourists to generate additional income as they reach maturity; disciplined for any biting or scratching or natural juvenile behaviour. 

Like many experiences with animals, unsuspecting volunteers and tourists will pay to get involved with these activities believing they’re contributing to conservation efforts, however, paying money and creating demand for these experiences is exacerbating the problem.

Of course, lions bred in these facilities cannot be rewilded. They have no genetic contribution to make to the wild lion population due to intense farming of these animals. Interbreeding is commonplace leading to weaker genetics and inbreeding depression resulting in fewer offspring, higher mortality rates, weakness and severe health and fitness debilitations of the animal. Habituated lions are also more dangerous as they associate people with food.

A male lion can be purchased for around a $50000 fee. This figure may be higher for an unblemished specimen without battle scars and a thicker, darker mane. The fee is much lower for a lioness at around $9000.

The investigative documentary, Blood Lions, showed us just how simple a transaction of purchasing a canned-hunt lion over the internet is. Once the game hunter arrives at the facility, they are taken to a shooting range first for target practice, however no level of proficiency in shooting is required. The lion is later released into a small enclosure and can be shot at multiple times until its collapse, distressing the animal in the process.

The animal is then staged for a photograph to make it appear like the game hunter has been victorious on a wild hunt, when in fact, this is not the truth.

This knowledge raises a legitimate ethical question - does being born into these conditions make their life worthless, insignificant and disposable?

So why is canned lion hunting so emotive?

Natural predators, including lions, are a flagship species meaning they are charismatic and attractive in public opinion; however, more importantly, they are also keystone species with a central role in the circle of life.

Predators have a “top down” influence as they regulate other species populations in our biosphere. They’re crucial for a healthy ecosystem as they prevent over population of other species that manage the planet’s flora and fauna, essential in the circle of life. Imbalances in our natural world, like wiping out a species, causes an extinction cascade, ultimately affecting the planet and humanity’s survival.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has ten classifications of species.

1 Extinct | 2 Extinct in the wild | 3 Critically endangered | 4 Endangered | 5 Vulnerable | 6 Conservation dependent | 7 Near threatened | 8 Least concern | 9 Data deficient | 10 Not evaluated.

With wild lions and other flagship and keystone species being hunted to the most severe level of extinction, we are unbalancing our eco-system and massively accelerating extreme climatic events with our short-sighted actions. We’re hunting animals to unsustainable levels and literally wiping them, and ourselves, off the face of the Earth.

Lions in captivity.

Captive bred lions, and other animals, can also be found in educational centres, circuses, wildlife parks, zoos and breeding programmes. They can be bred for hunting, "medicine", tourism, ‘conservation’, or for collectors as pets or as a status symbol.

There are, of course, genuine conservation projects and sanctuaries rescuing and positively protecting our wildlife whilst helping to raise awareness of practices where animals are caused distress and suffering.

However, generally, the simple truth underlying most of these practices is the animals generate income and profit at the expense of their freedom and often, their life.

But canned hunting is a closed system

It is argued that canned hunting is facilitating genuine conservation efforts with the income generated from buying the captive lions to kill, and that these facilities are diverting hunters away from killing wild animals instead.

Canned hunters believe they contribute to the economy as this industry relies on people who NEED an income to support their families; but would people choose a different job if it was a more ethical way to earn a living? I guess we don’t know.

Another question perhaps, is how much of the income generated gets distributed to conservation efforts and not kept by those who run the private facilities, again, unknown.

But let’s look at it another way. Canned hunters rationalise their actions by priding themselves on helping conserve wild animal populations through the income generated by their canned lion purchase, paradoxically whilst killing other living animals, which itself is an oxymoron.

If animal protection and conservation and caring are of concern to the people who participate in canned hunting, doesn’t it conflict morally with ending the life of another living creature?

Perhaps donations to animal welfare and conservation organisations that preserve our natural world could be made directly, and our critically endangered species could be repopulated, grow and thrive contributing massively to saving life on our planet.

Not that simple…

A broken and suppressed society has bred generations of deeply unhappy and angry people and this needs to change at the root.

Fundamentally, canned hunting is about ego and the need and desire for external validation and acceptance amongst peers, which outweighs the ability to empathise with other living beings and make morally right choices. This is driven by an energetic imbalance. A society in which emotions and feelings are closed-off and inaccessible counter intuitively producing people looking for short-term external ‘fixes’ of happiness to fill a void within.

Instead of healthy masculine energy which is laser-focussed, strong, responsible, respectful, inspiring, disciplined, and honourable, it disintegrates into wounded masculine traits of controlling, dominant, hard, aggressive, insensitive, and abusive, suppression of the inner feminine.

Healthy feminine energy is radiant, warm, loving, caring, sensitive, trusting, vulnerable, nurturing, compassionate, empathetic and playful but out of balance becomes synthetic, insecure, controlling, bitchy, manipulative, erratic, aggressive and belittling.

Everyone has both masculine and feminine energies within themselves and inner balance is the key to long term, organic, internal, happiness.

Only by addressing our shadows can we find the light.

Use your discernment.

If there’s no demand for captive animals or ‘bone’ products, there is no industry to supply to.

Genuine conservation establishments DO NOT allow you to touch or handle animals. They have a strict HANDS-OFF approach. If they are encouraging you to feed, cuddle, walk-with or photograph yourself with any animal, or there are more than a few baby animals at a facility – alarm bells need to sound, especially when money is being exchanged. Well-meaning volunteers on “conservation programmes” need to be vigilant as this practice can be hidden in plain sight.

What you can do.

  • Spread awareness of the practice to others in your environment or circle.
  • Beware tourist or volunteer exploitation.
  • Support organisations against hunting or animals as entertainment.
  • Sign petitions with companies tagged on our Instagram post.
  • Don’t visit aquariums, circuses (with animals), zoos, or pay to walk with or ride any animal. No demand, no supply.
  • Research before visiting any animal projects claiming to be about animal conservation (not just their websites).
  • Beware terms like green, ethical, environmental, conservation, care and life-changing that evoke positive feelings.
  • Use your own discernment. If something feels ‘off’, it probably is.
  • Get comfortable asking the uncomfortable questions. Genuine conservation programmes will not mind and welcome them.
  • Make noise to whoever will listen.
  • Safely and respectfully challenge people in power.
  • Care enough to help change the future.

Together, we stand for a brighter, healthier future on Earth.  

Asante Sana (thank you)

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