Raised in cages to be hunted as trophies like Cecil, and so used to humans that they think their killers are bringing them food – the haunting fate of South Africa’s ‘canned’ lions is exposed
- Fresh outcry expected over fate of greatest of Africa’s big cats as new movie is released about ‘canned hunting’
- Blood Lions will be screened next month on PBS and shows how hundreds of lions are raised to be shot as trophies
- They spend their lives in cages then taste just a few days of ‘freedom’ inside reserves enclosed by electric fences
- The animals are so used to humans that when they hear vehicles and pick up the hunters’ scent they think they are going to be fed
- Hunting a lion costs up to $30,000 and an estimated 500 Americans are among the trophy hunters who come to South Africa for the ‘canned hunt’
A new international outcry at the treatment of Africa’s lions is about to hit just weeks after the furor over the killing of Cecil by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer.
A movie will air next month that claims to blow the lid off big game hunting in South Africa, saying that 99 percent of the lions bagged in the country are hand-reared and specially bred for the bullet.
The movie, Blood Lions, has already been shown in South Africa, and is expected to bring new outrage down on the heads of wealthy Americans who travel to the Dark Continent with one thing in mind — bringing back a lion’s head so they can mount it on their wall and boast how they killed it in the wild.
‘There are roughly 1,000 lions killed by hunters in South Africa every year,’ Blood Lions executive director Andrew Venter told Daily Mail Online in an exclusive interview. ‘Of those, around 10 are genuinely wild.’
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Hunted: This white lion is one of the hundreds of the ‘apex animals’ bred simply to be hunted on reserves in South Africa
Farmed: The ‘canned hunting’ industry hand raises the lions in cages. They become so used to humans that they associate the scent with mealtime
Prized: A male lion is more valued as a trophy because of its mane. ‘Canned’ lions do not have the scratch marks that wild ones do from the fights for territory and superiority in the pride which are part of their lives
Catalog: How ‘canned lions’ are listed for selection as prey in a picture guidebook
A Benkoe Kill: The ‘canned’ lions are raised for this fate, with 1,000 killed every year. They are released for a minimum of four days to fulfill requirements which make them classed as ‘wild’ – then hunted.
The movie, to be broadcast on PBS next month, follows American hunter Rick Swazey to Benkoe, a hunting lodge near Vryburg in South Africa’s North West Province.
There he is guaranteed that for a payment of $5,400 he will get to shoot a lioness he has picked out of an online catalog of potential targets.
‘We were offered 14 lions with the images and prices attached,’ documentary maker Ian Michler told Daily Mail Online.
Moviemakers claim that the lioness was raised by hand in the booming so-called ‘canned hunting’ trade, although the lodge’s owner strenuously denied that to Daily Mail Online.
‘Benkoe Safaris do not engage in any canned lion hunting activities,’ owner Ben Duminy said. ‘Our clients do not shoot tame lions in small enclosures as the Blood Lions video tries to portray.
‘We are proud to be accredited by the South African Predators Association as a world class lion hunting destination, which means our clients hunt wild and dangerous lions on a fair chase and walk-and-stalk basis.
‘On several occasions a hunt ended with near catastrophic results for the hunter as a result of the viciousness and aggression of the quarry,’ Duminy added.
Yet he said he would not try to sue the moviemakers. ‘Legal action is not an appropriate strategy to combat the lies and propaganda of the animal rights lobby,’ said Duminy. He said hunters in South Africa have their own program ‘aimed at putting the true facts about the captive breeding industry across to people and institutions that really matter.’
Segregated: These lions are kept in cages apart from each other to avoid them fighting. Their heads are more valued if they are unmarked by scratches from fighting each other
Prize: A proud hunter poses with the lioness he has killed and the team who helped him
End result: A trophy at a hunting exhibition in South Africa shows how the canned lions will end up
Advertising: Filmmakers recorded this example of promotional material for lion hunting, offering ‘seven days, four trophies’
‘We were offered 14 lions with the images and prices attached,’ documentary maker Ian Michler told Daily Mail Online.
Venter and Michler believe their movie can have the same effect on the canned lion trade in South Africa that the 2013 documentary Blackfish had on SeaWorld and other marine parks in the United States. That movie exposed the way that orcas were kept in captivity. Since it came out SeaWorld shares have dropped by about half, CEO Jim Atchison was forced out and attendance has fallen off dramatically.
‘Our world is changing and whether it is orcas in ponds or lions in cages, these are exploitative activities that progressive societies no longer sanction,’ Michler told Daily Mail Online.
Venter, Michler and Swazey are all convinced that Benkoe’s hunts are fake. ‘The fact the lion hunting is inside an electrified fenced enclosure speaks volume,’ Swazey, an aircraft dispatcher who lived in Hawaii at the time the movie was made, told Daily Mail Online.
But the hunting industry in South Africa is trying to promote the term ‘captive hunting’ to get away from the negative connotations of ‘canned hunting.’
‘Before coming to South Africa, I found that there is a ‘Put and Take Law’ in the province where Mr. Duminy has his hunting camp,’ added Swazey.
‘This law requires that the animal to be hunted must be released into the hunting enclosure for a minimum of four days before being shot.’
That requirement is to give time to allow any drugs that may have been used to calm the beast to transport it to the hunting ground to wear off.
‘I challenge anyone to tell me how a four-day release constitutes a wild lion hunt,’ said Swazey.
‘My questions to Mr. Duminy are: ‘What exactly is the difference between captive and canned hunting? Why is there a need to blur the line between the two? Why is captive hunting acceptable and canned hunting not?’
‘The end result is the same: a lion is raised in captivity for only one purpose — to be shot.’
African lion hunting has been under intense scrutiny since Walter Palmer shot and killed Cecil the black-maned lion with a high-power crossbow in Zimbabwe last month. Cecil was not part of a canned hunt — which are virtually unknown outside South Africa.
Instead Cecil was allegedly lured from safety of the Hwange National Park by two guides trailing meat behind a vehicle. Palmer only injured the animal which suffered in intense agony for 40 hours before being tracked and finished off.
The hunting team then hacked off Cecil’s head so Palmer could take it back to his home. But Zimbabwean authorities confiscated it leaving Palmer with nothing to show for the $55,000 he spent for the kill.
Caged: This lion’s enclosure is a tiny fraction of the size of its footprint in the wild, where it would be able to roam freely over the grassland. It will taste brief freedom when it is set free to be hunted
Raised behind bars: A lion cub looks up from behind the wire fence preventing it from roaming free
Idle: The captive lions have little to do but lie in the sunshine as they wait their inevitable fate
Swazey’s fee was less than one-tenth of the size paid by Palmer because lionesses are not considered such good trophies as they don’t have the iconic full mane that male lions have.
One of the advantages hunters find in shooting hand-reared animals rather than genuinely wild ones is that they are unlikely to have been scratched up in fights that occur naturally in the wild, and therefore the head they get to show off will be in better condition, explained Venter.
Michler estimates there are around 200 facilities in South Africa breeding predators, mainly lions. He says there are between 6,000 and 8,000 animals currently in these facilities.
As well as providing relatively tame animals as shooting targets, these places also make money from tourists who are allowed to pet the cubs and walk with the carnivores and they also provide for a growing Far Eastern market in lion bones, which supposedly have medicinal properties, and have largely taken the place of tiger bones in China, due to restrictions on importing tiger parts.
‘Nearly all justify what they do by claiming conservation, educational or lion awareness arguments,’ said Michler, a former Cape Town stockbroker who has worked in conservation for the past 25 years.
‘And then, of course, they point to the economic contributions such as job creation.’
But, he said, his documentary exposes those arguments. ‘The film clearly shows how lions, an apex predator that in the natural world requires ample space, are being subjected to intensive agricultural breeding practices in confined areas.
‘It also shows how the breeders and farmers mix species such as lions and tiger and you also get to see and understand the considerable welfare concerns.’
He said Swazey came on board after watching a promo clip the movie makers had circulated. ‘Rick is a genuine American hunter,’ he said. ‘The practices of canned hunting offended every hunting sensibility he knew and so he volunteered to be part of the project.
Michler estimates that around 1,000 hunters travel every year to South Africa to bag lions. Of those, roughly half are American.
Swazey remains a committed deer and white-winged dove hunter in the United States. ‘The hunting I do is to put food on the table,’ he told Daily Mail Online.
Notorious: Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer’s killing of Cecil created revulsion around the world. He hunted the treasured 13-year-old first with a crossbow, wounding him, then shot him dead 40 hours later
Worldwide impact: Cecil’s death was followed by calls for action against trophy hunting
Impact: Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer’s Florida vacation home was vandalized and he remains in hiding after it was disclosed that he killed Cecil
Reviled: Walter Palmer has been in hiding ever since it was revealed he had killed Cecil
But he agreed to take part in the movie because he found himself repulsed by the idea of killing a captive animal solely for its trophy value.
‘What bothers me most about “hunting” a canned animal is that the animals are in an enclosure, often baited to present a shot to the shooter and sometimes shot from a vehicle.’
Making it worse, he said, the lions are used to ‘the sight, sound and scent’ of humans.
‘When a vehicle approaches a lion that was bottle-fed and raised in captivity, that sound usually means it is mealtime.’
Swazey and his team had never intended to kill the lioness and were still working out a way to make their exit while leaving the animal alive when Duminy discovered they were making a movie. Although many hunters take teams along to film their exploits, both sides agree that Swazey’s ruse was discovered because his crew appeared too professional.
Instead of capturing a lion killed on camera, the filmmakers caught Duminy threatening to kill Swazey after he is uncovered. Swazey insists the game lodge owner meant what he said, and he believed his life was in genuine danger.
‘How would you feel if someone twice your size threatened to kill you?’ he asked.
‘I trusted Mr. Duminy about as far as I could throw him. I think he had every intention of causing us serious harm if we had not left when we did.’
As for the fate of the animal that Swazey was supposed to kill, it is still unclear. ‘After we left the farm, we tried to arrange for the lioness to be moved to a sanctuary,’ said Michler.
‘But negotiations between Benkoe and ourselves broke down. We got a partial refund and have no idea what happened to the lioness.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3204097/Raised-cages-hunted-trophies-like-Cecil-used-humans-think-killers-bringing-food-haunting-fate-South-Africa-s-canned-lions-exposed.html#ixzz3k63Mu1Kg