Wealthy clients who take pleasure in shooting lions for entertainment are sent brochures with photographs of captive male lions via the WhatsApp smartphone application. This allows them to choose which particular individual they want to shoot. The price for doing it depends upon the size and quality of the lion’s mane and varies between £10,000-£42,300. The depressing aspect of this business is that nothing changes – except that it grows. There is little will internationally to stop it. The South African government won’t do it voluntarily. They have more pressing problems with corruption and a dire economy.
The information comes from Lord Ashcroft who thankfully has investigated lion abuse in the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa. He funded an undercover investigation codenamed Operation Simba. It involved former special forces and security operatives and provides a fascinating but horrific insight.
Captive-bred lions are abused in 2 ways: they are shot by trophy hunters in enclosures (canned lion hunting) and their bones are used to supply the Chinese traditional medicine business. It’s a booming trade worth many millions of pounds per year. Chinese traditonal medicine is the single biggest threat to tigers and lions on the planet.
The whole thing is quite horrendous and a blot on South Africa. It indicates a culture in that country which is highly abusive of animals and laws which are ineffective or not in place or unenforced. The kind of gruesome activity is described in one scene in which a British sport hunter was filmed chasing a confused and tranquilized lion in an enclosure in a 4×4 vehicle before shooting it at a distance of 10 yards.
The people involved in these businesses bypass the regulations and fiddle the systems. For example, a UK representative of a South African safari company advised an American sport hunter how to get his trophies into the country. He suggested that he import the trophy into the UK first and then ship the trophy out of the UK by hiding the lion’s skin inside the skin of a dead red deer. It’s good business: in 2 days, 50 lions were shot at a “eco-farm” in South Africa’s Free State Province.
The research indicates a complete disregard for animal welfare where lions are kept in tiny cages under appalling conditions next to blood-stained slaughterhouses where lion body parts litter the floor and overflow from black plastic bags in a trailer.
In a desire to maximise profits lions are being mated with tigers to create exotic hybrids. Tourists are encouraged to play with lion cubs or go walking with adolescent lions. The lions are destined for death by gun and dismemberment for the Chinese traditional medicine business.
Lord Ashcroft has asked the South African government to make captive-bred line farming illegal. It shames South Africa, he says. And it shames the world.
The government of South Africa’s reputation is being damaged and lion farming. France is the first EU country to ban the importation of lion trophies. My research indicates that Britain is yet to ban the importation of lion trophies. There is pressure on the British government to do so. Further reserch indicates that the government is pushing ahead with the ban under pressure in part from Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s partner who as we know is a vocal animal rights campaigner.
In 2016 I wrote about a new US federal law which would dramatically reduce lion trophy hunting. As I understand it, the Trump administration has loosened the controls over the importation of lion trophies into America. Clearly, a lot needs to be done to stop this gruesome industry.