Majestic lion
Majestic lion (Photo by Derek Keats)

Hunting, Canned hunting and volunteering at wildlife reserves

People generally fall into two camps when the topic of hunting is raised: those who are for it and those who are against, and, certainly where us Brits are concerned, when we love animals, we really love them. As anyone who’s ever been on safari will testify, it’s never going to be pleasant contemplating that an animal you have just spotted, photographed and will remember forever, might then be hunted by humans. That said, hunting is a big way of life in many African nations, and very often it plays an incredibly important part in conservation strategies.

Our stance on hunting

While we do not promote hunting trips, at Responsible Travel we do understand that well-managed hunting can encourage the protection of large swathes of land for wildlife which may otherwise be built upon, mined or farmed. To really benefit wildlife population, there must be strictly enforced quotas in place that have been advised by independent experts (not by the reserve owners or tour operators themselves) and these quotas must ensure viable populations as well as a considerable reinvestment in community projects and conservation. We do, of course, hope that responsible tourism will one day emerge as a far more sustainable – and ethical – alternative, proving that wildlife is worth far more alive than dead.

What is canned hunting?

Canned hunts, on the other hand, are those that involve lions born and raised in cages on private breeding farms and hunting reserves. When the lions reach about four years old, they’re let loose into a confined area to become easy targets for hunters using rifles or bows. With the animals fenced in, canned hunting guarantees a kill; not only is it an unskilled pursuit, it’s also a deeply one-sided one.

Unsurprisingly, what a canned hunt also guarantees is money, and lots of it too – hunt fees can easily hit $50,000. South African journalist and conservation advocate, Ian Michler’s 2015 film ‘Blood Lions’ is a brilliant, hard-hitting documentary that exposes the dark underbelly of South Africa’s captive breeding and canned hunting industries. In it he reveals that in 1999 there were about 1,000 lions caged on farms, by 2005, this figure had jumped to 3,500, and now stands at 7,000 – sadly, the captive breeding of lions is proving increasingly lucrative for the individuals involved.

Cuddling lions makes them an easy canned hunting trophy

More pertinent than the shameless greed though is the outright abuse of human trust these farms are happy to employ to fill their coffers further. Advertising themselves as ethical ‘conservation reserves’ and ‘sanctuaries’, some private farms advertise for animal-loving volunteers to come and help look after their baby cubs. Volunteers – having paid upwards of £1,500 for the apparent privilege – are asked to bottle feed lions, hug them, walk them and play with them as if they were kittens – this isn’t because they’re cute and they like to play, it’s so that they become habituated. The inherent fear that a wild lion would have of a hunter is effectively cuddled out of them, making them easy pickings for rich hunters on the prowl for a distasteful picture to prove their abject manliness; how tragically ironic.

Lion cub cuddling
Lion cuddling (Photo by Frontierofficial)

The response

However, now more than ever, the world is finally asking questions about the ethics of canned hunting and the rose-tinted specs are firmly off – volunteers are coming forward exposing organisations who favour profit over protection; countries are banning the importation of lion trophies; and opinions from some of the world’s leading experts regarding the entirely unnecessary place of canned hunting in conserving endangered big cats are being sought out and heard. In the words of Luke Hunter, head of global big cat conservation organisation, Panthera, the idea that captive lions are part of a lion reintroduction initiative across South Africa are a “conservation myth.” He adds: “Any sincere effort to reestablish lions simply has no reason to resort to captive animals.”

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