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Blood Lions – a film exposing the brutal exploitation of the king of beasts

Many tourists are lured to South Africa with the prospect of petting a lion cub or even walking with young lions. Some come as “volunteers”, paying to stay at lion breeding facilities where they hand-rear cute cubs. All are sold the lie that their money and help goes towards increasing lion numbers and conserving the species. The truth is that the vast majority of these lions are bred for the bullet, with over 800 captive-bred lions being killed annually by trophy hunters. Due for release at the Durban International Film Festival on 22 July, Blood Lions is set to expose this bloody and brutal industry.

Every single day in South Africa at least two to three captive bred or tame lions are being killed in canned hunts.

There are about 200 farms and breeding facilities holding as many as 7,000 lions in captivity today – about three times the number of wild lions in legitimate conservation areas. Breeding farms supply hunting operators with adult lions to be shot in confined areas. This makes it difficult for the lions to evade hunters, and easier for hunters to locate and kill them. Canned or captive hunting has opened up an entirely new market for people that would otherwise not have been able to afford a wild hunt, and business is booming.

The film follows longtime wildlife campaigner Ian Michler on his quest to uncover the truth behind these breeding facilities and the canned hunting industry. Opponents to predator breeding and canned hunting have been calling for an end to these practices for almost 20 years, but with little lasting success as both practices continue to grow.

“The Blood Lions team believes the film will provide the campaign with a significant boost,” says Michler. “Powerful footage and a compelling narrative from a number of world-renowned conservationists and welfare experts will leave viewers in little doubt as to what is taking place on many private farms across South Africa. Other than greed and ego, there are no reasons to be breeding lions in captivity to be killed in captivity. We believe the film can be a global tool for meaningful change.”

Filming undercover 

One of the greatest challenges for Michler and filmmaker Nick Chevallier was gaining access to and filming on breeding and hunting farms that are not open to scrutiny. “Many of the operators, which includes the hunters as well as the cub-petting and other farms, are hostile to any inquisitive questioning because they do not want the fraud exposed,” says Michler.

“Investigative filming techniques became critical to telling this story and to the journalistic process,” explains Chevallier who has been involved with wildlife documentaries for most of his long career. ‘This documentary was different in that the story unravelled over a couple of years. We knew it was going to be a difficult project in view of the secrecy and sensitivity of the topic. Getting access to places was a big challenge, as was trying to film and capture sequences without revealing too much of what we were doing. In the field it was also emotionally challenging for me, particularly on the breeding farms, and later when viewing footage.”

There is no doubt that the revealing and graphic nature of the film will affect animal lovers and wildlife campaigners alike, potentially motivating them to action. But one of the key questions is if it will motivate trophy hunters and hunting organizations.

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Tourists pay to pet lion cubs that are being bred for the bullet. ©Ian Michler

Breeding lions has no real conservation or educational purpose

“Given that breeding and canned hunting of lions serves no real conservation or educational purpose, and that the ethics and sportsmanship of the behaviour is seriously questionable, you would have thought that any self-respecting hunter would be completely on-sides in trying to have the practices stopped,” says Michler. “However, the mainstream bodies, PHASA (Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) included, have decided to side with the breeders and canned hunters as these practices provide easy trophies to a far greater market than traditional fair-chase hunting could ever do. Throw in all the other commercial activities such as cub-petting, trading and the volunteer tourist scam, and you have an industry that provides significant profit opportunities to their membership. So the lucrative financial spinoffs has trumped everything else.”

The breeding and hunting industries try to justify their activities on the grounds that they are making significant contributions to conservation, either financially or by protecting the species. But Michler says they can make no such claims and that it is detrimental to conservation. “The breeders and hunters do not work with any recognised conservation agencies or lion ecologists,” says Michler. ‘”y making the claims they do, the true conservation messages and priorities are being confused and vital funding is being directed away from where it is needed most.”

Asked about the ability of such documentaries to generate public awareness, Chevallier said, “Today there are a lot more well researched, investigative type stories out there focusing on cruelty issues and the viewer respects this opportunity of ‘lifting the lid’. As much as viewers worldwide love to watch beautiful natural history documentaries that show animal behaviour in wild settings, the world is changing fast, as are concepts like ‘wilderness’. Global human population explosion is obviously having a major impact on wildlife, as is the commoditisation of nature, and people are catching on to this. There’s more awareness and social media is playing a very big role.”

Hunters standing up against canned hunting

Thanks to this awareness there has been positive progress in the campaign to eradicate exploitation of wildlife. Recently a number of international airlines banned the transport of animal parts, including hunting trophies, on their flights, and Australia has banned the import of hunting trophies. There is also progress in hunting circles. “There is a growing group of professional hunters here in South Africa (www.sampeo.co.za) that have stood up against the practices. They have taken on PHASA and are prepared to see a split in the body between the ethical and unethical hunters,” says Michler. “I do see opposition to breeding and canned hunting growing significantly across the world and hopefully many more hunting organisations will realise they are damaging their reputation if they continue to support canned hunting.”

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©Ian Michler

A film set to provoke change

Blood Lions has already been accepted in a number of international film festivals and will be screened in parliaments around the globe, universities and schools, as well as to select audiences of decision-makers.

Chevallier considers himself fortunate to be able to have an influence in some way “I really enjoy tackling nature-based, environmental stories where I can help support the “voiceless”.”

Michler says he sees the film as a significant step up in what for him has been over 15 years of efforts. “The process is unfolding at a quicker rate. Over the course of the Blood Lions film and the campaign, I have noticed two things, he says. ‘One: opposition to hunting in general is growing, and, other than for those involved, when it comes to canned hunting it is almost universal. Two: for the vested interests, especially those that do the killing or make the money, the justifications have run out.”

Visit bloodlines.org to learn more and get involved. 

Publishing editor of Africa Geographic Magazine.

  • Becca Bryan

    The film trailer is most upsetting, yet it compels me to step up and do more to end this awful business of cub petting and canned lion hunts. In the US, it is the wealthiest “hunters” who participate in these pitiful events. There’s no convincing them that what they are doing is cherry picking lions for the trophy on their wall. Where the fight should start, over here, is with travel companies that promote facilities allowing cub petting and interaction. Anton, have you seen the documentary “Saving Serabie”?

    • susan

      amen

  • Deana

    I will never understand why people fell the need to kill , and say it’s fun , It is so heartless ! All for money , what is wrong with humans ? When God has nothing but love and wants all of us to just love all the living things , Please this has to STOP ! Look in those faces there eyes and help it stop ! I is a real man and women that sees love not harm . Deana

    • Ranger Pete

      I could not agree with you more Deana,and as an ex Anti Poaching Ranger,I find this practice even more SICKINING than some poaching situations and incidents I have been involved with,THE abuse of wildlife is increasing almost on a daily basis,from the Bushmeat trade to The pangolin “craze” from Ivory and Rhino Horn poaching syndicates,decimating the remaking Rhino and Elephant heards,to even the use of Lion Bone as a substitute for the Tiger bone,”medicine” practiced in the Far East,there is no part of the Wildlife,system that has not been abused by these uncaring individuals,and crimminals in all poaching cases.The sooner these sordid practices are stopped by the Governments,will wildlife start to Recover.

  • Patrice Vandenberghe

    Difficult to fight against money, but we can mock people who joins in these events on their fake courage, we can question their manhood, accuse them of total lack of civility, moral sense, humanity, etc. publicizing y diffusing it as much as possible.

  • Crystal

    People need to stop killing the lion’s. It’s not right and it makes me feel sad and angry at the same time. Why can’t people appreciate them. This really made me tear up.

  • KarenGeer

    Jim Williams, aka Elephant Bill (1920-1948, his time in Asia), use a big game hunter, He stopped when he realized that people kill out of fear.

  • S.w. Tsang

    i did not know most of these hunters’ most popular targets or victims are big cats ! not just lions , leopards too ! and they will do any thing like luring a lion from a national park out to kill.

    i do not understand why killing and showing off a dead stuff big cat makes them feel manly at all since killing them by these wealthy hunters is easy with the help of professional hunters and trackers with dogs and their vehicles . and they even kill at night with their night vision device or heat sensory equip which makes a leopard hiding up a tree at night a sitting target.

  • Eva van Loon

    My loathesome species….

  • Jude Price

    Thank you.

  • Marcus

    how did we get so low…

  • Pieter

    While I am definitely against canned hunting, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Ian Michler has gotten involved in conservation at all. His sentimentalism has done more damage to conservation by attacking ethical hunting, which is the big reason why South Africa boasts more wildlife than most other African countries vis-a-vis economics. He knows the logic, but is willing to sacrifice it in the name of a concept that has no basis in reality.

    • Informed Voter

      “Ethical hunting” is an oxymoron. There is no economic justification for either canned hunting or traditional big game hunting in South Africa and the economics prove it. It is a myopic and self-serving agenda to appease a handful of rich foreigners which robs locals of long term assets that are worth far more alive than dead.

  • Tapas Basu

    STOP THIS BRUTALITY NOW.

  • Diane Anderson

    SO DISGUSTED BY HUMANS, feel ashamed to be of this species

    • susan

      me too diane!

  • susan

    lion hunting,tiger hunting,elephant,rhino…all should be banned! bless the beasts! i pray for this to stop! i have to say some people should be shot..

  • Denni A

    Please stop calling this “HUNTING”, this is no such thing, this is wholesale trophy killing slaughter of these majestic animals for morally depraved humans, barbarism at its worst.
    how anyone can derive pleasure from snuffing out a life of another being is beyond my grasp to understand.

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