“Canned” lions now need a lifeline

The High Court upheld the provisional ban on hunting of captive-bred lions in a recent ruling. Animal wellfare and lion breeders alike are worried about the unintended consequences of the ruling.

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A recent High Court ruling upheld the provisional ban on the hunting of captive-bred lions, but the elation of animal rightist was short lived.
Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) CEO Yolan Friedmann was quick to call on government to address the fate of about 4 000 lions currently in captive breeding facilities across the country.
She described the situation as a potential welfare crisis in which “these animals could fall prey to neglect and further cruel treatment because they have now lost their economic value to breeders.”
Her concern follows initial joy at the ruling in the Free State High Court which upheld the ban in terms of the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations.
The validity of certain provisions of the TOPS regulations drafted in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 10 of 2004, came under attack.
The regulations deal with trophy hunting of captive bred lions, commonly termed “canned lions”. The breeders asked for the removal of provisions requiring captive-bred lions to be set free for a period of 24 months before being hunted. The applicants also requested the court set aside provisions which render the future breeding of lions for “canned hunts” illegal.
South African Predator Breeders’ Association chairperson Carel van Heerden said the regulations are impractical. First, he said, the lions need a vast range to roam freely, as stipulated in the TOPS regulations.
“Our members don’t have access to game areas the size of the Kruger National Park,” he explained. “Typically, a predator breeder has a game ranch of between 1 000ha and 2 000ha.”
Secondly, Van Heerden said the lions kill indiscriminately. “To release them into a game area means one would have to accept they’re going to kill whatever they please, and in some instances one another, for a two-year period.”
Currently, lions in enclosures are fed meat which breeders buy from abattoirs and local communities. In the wild they can eat more expensive meat such as kudu or eland or whatever occurs on the land. “No lion is going to limit itself to impala,” said Van Heerden.
He feels the high court judge has fallen into the same trap as former environmental affairs minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, by focusing on the emotions around lion hunting.
“People forget that by letting outfitters hunt captive-bred lions a lot of pressure is taken off conservation populations such as the lions of the Kruger National Park.”
These sentiments were confirmed in court papers, where Kruger Park chief veterinarian Dr Dewalt Keet attributed the decline in pressure on Kruger lions, from neighbouring outfitters, to the breeding of lions in captivity for the hunting industry.
“We’re considering our options, but will definitely take further action,” said Van Heerden. “We can’t allow this well-regulated industry to be destroyed through the wrong perceptions.” – Staff reporter