Shame on us!

Lions in cages

For so many of us involved in the wildlife, conservation and ecotourism industries in South Africa, it’s a very shameful period right now. In addition to dealing with the rhino poaching scourge, the appalling practices of canned hunting and the breeding of predators in captivity have just been given the green light to continue. This comes about after The Supreme Court of Appeal handed down its long-awaited judgment in favour of the South African Predator Breeders Association.

A few years back, the then Minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism proposed new legislation to curtail predator breeding and canned hunting practices with stipulations on how and when lions could be shot. Those involved took him to court, a process that has taken all of four years to be decided. And how absolutely ironic that in making the decision to overturn this proposed new legislation, the Court should speak about a lack of ‘rational thinking’ by the then Minister. With this verdict, the Court has just legitimised the most irrational thinking and behaviour imaginable.

This world remains full of trophy hunters, and they pride themselves in slaying ‘dangerous’ wild creatures like lions. And it’s all for a good conservation cause they add. But to do this, they come to South Africa, in their thousands, to kill lions, not wild free-roaming creatures, but ones that are as tame as household pets and in the process of being domesticated on farms all across the country. All proceeds of course, go straight into the pockets of the operators.

Is there anyone out there that can explain the rationality in this? And how does this relate to conservation, or the way we protect lions you might also ask? Is this behaviour not the very antithesis of what the hunting and ranching fraternity claim to be about?

You’re right, there is no reasonable explanation, other than self-interest at all levels. And this is the disgraceful deceit of all those so shamelessly involved in these practices. And shame on us for now formally sanctioning this sorry mess.

Although unforeseen, the Court’s ruling may though end up having a beneficial outcome. I envisage it being the spur to public opinion, both locally and internationally, that will become a far more decisive factor in determining the final outcome. We need now to consistently be asking pointed questions of those that come to kill, those that breed for the killing and those that allow it all to happen.

And for my generation, a group that still takes pride in the country’s overall conservation and wildlife management record, we also need to be asking questions of ourselves. Are we going to take responsibility for overseeing the domestication process of lions and a host of other wild species?

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Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

  • Chris Allen

    It interests me that so few conservationists and scientists in the field of conservation discuss this issue of the domestication process of lions and other wild species.It seems obvious to me that this practice poses an enormous threat to the future of wild species, yet so few people in the industry seem to understand the magnitude of this threat, *or* care!

    Those of us who feel the deep shame of this decision of the Court need to take action.Action that is loud and proactive. Anyone who can give some suggestions as to how and what, please come forward on this blog site.

  • johan

    Thanks Ian for this disturbing update.
    Additional information can be found here:

    I wonder how much money has changed hands to sideline the minister…..

  • Steve BAILEY

    I am sure SARS should have a close look at this. How much TAX is paid per Lion killed.
    Its another sad day for the image of South Africa, we are culling our Rhino by the dozen and now we are the world leader in killing tame Lions

  • Amy

    This is totally disgusting. I cannot begin to understand the mindset of some humans, including those who have the power to make change but instead turn the other way.

  • Jim Buchanan

    How low can you sink South Africa, this decision is appalling. These so called ”hunters” should simply go and shoot at a target of a lion painting. The country now sinks even further in my estimation.

  • LionAid

    Ian: Thank you for your blog on this subject. Unfortunately, it was large-scale complacency that allowed the canned lion “hunting” phenomenon to mushroom into what it is now. Such complacency exists both within South Africa and abroad, where most people have not heard of the practice and do not know what canned “hunting” means. That is unfortunate, as the export market is big business and fueled by overseas demand for cut-rate lion trophies on their walls and floors.

    Canned lion “hunting”, according to CITES export figures, was a relatively small business at the turn of the century with 20 trophies exported in 1999 and 33 in 2000. From there it showed steady growth, culminating in 683 trophies exported in 2008. The figure for 2009 (the last available from CITES) shows a sharp drop to 194 exports, likely because the bargain-basement lion “hunter” felt the economic pinch of the financial crisis. CITES lists a total of 2439 canned lions exported to 48 countries in the last decade, with the top 3 importers being the USA (1383 trophies), Spain (316), and Russia (76). Seems it would be a good idea to do some awareness raising in the USA?

    However, this post is about encouraging those wanting to take the campaign against canned “hunting” forward in South Africa, and seeking what might at first seem an unusual ally. We are talking here about PHASA – the South African Professional Hunter’s Association. Supposedly, there is widespread disgust of canned “hunting” among professional hunters as it sullies their image. In addition, PHASA has a set of principles by which they are guided. Their Mission Statement says the following: “PHASA supports the conservation and ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, for the benefit of current and future generations, through the promotion of ethical hunting”. Canned “hunting” is not ethical. Also, the PHASA Code of Conduct states: “Each member of PHASA shall commit himself, upon acceptance of membership, to this Code of Conduct whereby he shall conduct himself in a manner which will reflect honesty, integrity and morality and shall not allow material gain to supersede such principles”. And finally, under Aims and Objectives, members are encouraged “to promote and market South Africa as a leading international hunting destination”. Difficult to achieve in a country that allows canned lion “hunting”?
    The PHASA Code of Conduct would certainly deny membership of any breeder *or* rancher involved in canned “hunting”, and perhaps PHASA should do some scrutinizing of their current members.
    In addition, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs recently published the “Draft Norms and Standards for the Regulation of the Hunting Industry in South Africa” (Government Gazette, Vol. 534, 11 Dec 2009, No. 32798). In this document, the Minister proposes such Guiding Principles as “promoting ethical hunting with fair chase as a foundation of hunting practices” and “promoting the avoidance of unnecessary stress to and suffering by animals”. Fair chase being the principle whereby an animal has the chance of eluding the hunter. The Minister also proposes guidelines for Ethical Conduct and Good Practice, including criteria for the hunting of wild animals with humane methods.

    You state “I envisage it [the Court decision] being the spur to public opinion, both locally and internationally, that will become a far more decisive factor in determining the final outcome”. PHASA could be an interesting partner in this programme. They might say that the Ministry proposals and their codes of conduct pertain to the hunting of wild animals, but it seems to me you cannot have two standards for hunting being applied in South Africa: on the one hand the Ministry and PHASA encouraging a set of morals, ethics, and fair chase, and on the other hand canned “hunting” that is the antithesis of such practices. PHASA would do well to publicly distance themselves from canned “hunting”.

    Pieter Kat

  • linda park

    Personally I was not surprised at the ruling. Unfortunately all animals in this country seem to have no rights whatsoever and are merely a commodity to be used as people see fit. It is a sad reflection on the moral fibre of South Africa. I just don”t see how we can let this situation continue but also have no idea how one can fight the huge amounts of money that are thrown at this industry.

  • linda park

    Really not surprised at the Supreme Court ruling. Despite what is supposed to be an all encompassing constitution, animals in general in this country have no rights and are viewed as a means to an end. There must be something we can do but I have no idea what against the monetary power this truly revolting industry has generated.

  • Brett

    Hi Ian,

    This latest decision is simply shocking. I simply do not get the appeal of hunting a lion bred in captivity? Who is to blame, the breeders fooling the hunters into believing that they are hunting a wild lion, *or* the hunters for not actually being as tough as they think they are?

    Even fair chase – surely its only fair if its “man against man” – no guns involved? I mean the lions dont have guns?

    Anyway, its very sad news, but at the end of the day you reap what you sow and what goes around comes around.


  • Tessa

    There is no possible way to justify canned hunting in this country *or* anywhere in the world. This is a tragic ruling for the future of wild species in our country, and a very sad indication of the lack of sophisticated understanding of the issues from our Courts, and I fear, from the breeders and farmers too. They seem to have absolutely no understanding of the danger of domesticating lions and other wild species during their farming and breeding processes.Greed and archaic thinking dominates their world.
    I”d like to be a part of the vehement public opinion , of which you speak , that participates in “determining a final outcome”, so where to from here? There needs to be a loud,unified and proactive voice that expresses the outrage felt against this ruling.

  • BRAD

    Thanks Ian for bringing this additional information to light…. It is very very sad for conservation, ecotourism and South Africa as a whole…. but honestly even more sad for the poor animals… Being bred in captivity and then still hunted like tame dogs….. Everyone has their judgement day!!!

  • Sheena

    I am now seriously considering not going back to South Africa on holiday and I am very sorry to say so!

    I shall do whatever I can to raise awareness of this horrible and tragic situation.

  • ian michler

    Many thanks to all that have joined the debate. Chris and Tessa have raised the issue of domestication and rightly so. Those that have followed my writing on these issues over the years will know that this has been my primary concern. There is an extremely real threat that within the next few decades, these breeders and hunters will be responsible for producing a variety of races, not only of lions, but for various other species they breed for the trophy hunters. And it is incomprehensible that the hunting community, conservationists, law-makers and others seem not to care. I cannot explain why this is so – possibly because they have as yet not given it due consideration.

    On the actual case, I have now had time to read the full transcript and it would seem that the Department of Environmental Affairs is responsible for bungling the process of drawing up the laws – the judgement clearly refers to “procedural unfairness in the making of the regulations”. They are also accused of making use of the 24month rewilding provision even though they accepted that it was not a workable option – hence the comment of flawed rationality by the Court.

    Pieter has some suggestions on a way forward, which includes dealing with PHASA. My concern with them and all the trophy hunting associations is that they are not capable *or* prepared to regulate themselves – within the membership, the lines on whatever ethics exist remain incredibly thin and once you start down this road, then it very quickly becomes clear that almost everything they do is compromised, so they prefer not to point fingers at their own in the first place. Plus, there is so much money involved. They only responded to canned hunting because the public outcry became so loud.

    And then this leads onto the question from Brett, who asks whether its the hunter *or* operator/breeder that is to blame for promoting canned hunting. I dont” think it”s case of anyone being blamed – rather, both are as guilty as each other of extreme deception. The breeder who probably spins a tale of rubbish about the lions, and the dumb hunter that wants to kill a lion, no matter the circumstances. Its probably best explained by the phrase “none so blind as those that don”t want to see”. That is how sad, sick and stupid this all is.

  • Chris Allen

    Hi Ian

    On this concern about the domestication of wild species: It”s an issue that I”d never thought much about until I first read an article of yours where you raised the topic. Then when i gave it some thought I was horrified at the idea. Yet, when I raise the topic in conservation circles and even scientific circles I mostly get blank responses. Nobody seems too concerned about it. The usual response is something like: “at least people will be hunting the domesticated race rather than the wild ones.” The horror of creating a domesticated lion race seems to fall short of most people”s comprehension. Can you raise a few points as to what the main concerns are? Why would having a domesticated race of lion be such a concern? I”m concerned that we would then breed them with wild ones,diluting the wild genes and out-breeding the wild species even faster than we already are. The other concern is that we start creating mixed races like the Liger. Constant human meddling with animal species. It worries me on an ethical level yet surely the scientific community should be equally alarmed?
    It”s common practice in the plant world , so much so that the original “root stock” of most of our vegetables have long been lost. But because we aren”t emotionally attached to plants like we are animals, this issue is never raised.

  • Judith Cavey

    How sad and degraded can humans become? Actions must be taken to prevent the disgusting hunting of wild animals – and also animals partly tamed. Before long, there will be nothing left of our beautiful range of wild animals. I picked up the following quotation on a trip to Yellowstone National Park this year:
    I feel humans would be wise to ponder on these words, it could so easily come true.

  • bronwyn williams

    Hi Ian.
    As a new professional to the environmental legal industry am distressing and feel disillusioned by the outcome of cases such as this. I find myself in a moral dilemma involving laws and logic. This “environmental” industry – legal, conservation NGO, sustainability ect ect is so vast an overwhelming that it is difficult to choose “save the lion, over save the rhino *or* the butterfly”. So here I am, offering my services in any matter however remote, even if it has to do with simple interpretation *or* the formulation of a petition..i want to be a part of the movement that stops barbaric behavior towards animals and in this particular instance toward lions..which im sure few will disagree are a symbol of Africa internationally. I can lift my comments about the above discussion but would prefer to be more pro-active with my energy and legal abilities. Should you require assistance in anything involving legal, don’t hesitate to write. I will help where I can. Lets LEADSA and start somwhere. Thank you for being a symbol of activisim and a voice for animal rights. Bronwyn


    My name is Richard Hargreaves and I am a UK qualified and based lawyer who has followed this case from the South African Predator Breeders Association (”SAPBA”) lodging their initial challenge against the TOPS Regulations, to ”lions” being taken out of the Regs designed to protect them, to the Judgment against the SAPBA and now their win on appeal.

    In addition to the inhumane murder of thousands of captive bred lions, the South African captive lion breeding / canned hunting industry also poses very serious risks to the continued existence of the few remaining wild lions in Africa.

    For some time now live captive bred lions from South Africa have been sent to other lion range states throughout Africa where they have been passed off and hunted as ”wild” for the hunters” scores on the doors purposes.

    Because of this the official wild lion trophy export figures from those states have become higher than they ought to be. These figures then suggest larger wild lion populations than is actually the case and, as a result, those states then set far higher wild lion trophy hunting quotas than might otherwise have been the case.

    In addition, conservation measures that might otherwise have been taken may also be diverted and resources sent elsewhere – on the basis that it appears there are comparatively healthy wild lion populations in those states when, in fact, their legitimate wild lion populations may be on the verge of regional extinction.

    We know official export figures can be distorted because of the figures from South Africa itself. The difference between the CITES export figures of total lion trophies from South Africa and total captive bred lion trophies from South Africa are too far apart to be correct. The difference is in the hundreds yet the SAPBA”s expert admitted himself that there would only be about 15 truly wild lions available to be hunted, outside of protected areas, in South Africa each year.

    Further, elements of the South African captive lion breeding / canned hunting industry have now diversified to create and fuel the burgeoning new lion bone trade that has become prevalent in the Republic in recent years. This poses another serious risk for wild lions throughout Africa because Asian middlemen will want the cheapest bones possible for the Chinese. As such, whenever possible, they will buy wild lion bones from poachers that are likely to be cheaper than the prices charged by the lion breeders.

    Obviously, when such cheap bones aren”t available the lion breeders” bones will be bought and, as a result, some breeders will diversify entirely into supplying the lion bone trade and away from canned hunting altogether. For these breeders the need to ”grow” fine looking trophy lions will be gone. Instead, the Republic will have pictures of lions who have been hormonally bred to adulthood and then starved to death for their bones – akin to the photos from the Chinese tiger farms.

    The Supreme Court of Appeal”s ruling basically endorses these practices and, as a result, the lion bone trade will now flourish at just the early stage in its existence when it should have been stamped out.

    I have written an article exploring these issues in more depth that can be found at Page 7 of this Journal:

    I am also a co-director of Chris Mercer”s Campaign Again Canned Hunting organisation and Chris” website, that also includes commentary on the Norms and Standards, can be found at:


  • Chris Mercer

    Bloemfontein – The SA Predator Breeders” Association recently won a Supreme Court of Appeal case regarding the trophy hunting of captive lions – commonly called “canned hunting”.
    The Supreme Court held the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mr Van Schalkwyk, did not take a “rational decision” when he determined that captive-bred lions had to fend for themselves in an extensive wildlife system for 24 month before they could be hunted.

    There seems to be much misunderstanding in conservation circles about this judgment, so I have clarified it, and pasted copies of relevant extracts of the judgment to our website for interested people to read. In fact, the Supreme Court picked up on a point which we have made right from the beginning, namely, that the 24 month wilding rule was arbitrary and meaningless, having no conservation value. We maintained that it was nothing more than a pretence, viz: ‘if we can pretend that the lion is wild then we can all pretend that canned hunting has been banned.’ The Minister’s aim was to use this public relations gimmick to deflect public anger, and at the same time allow canned hunting to continue behind the false cloak of regulation. We described the Minister’s 24 month wilding rule at the time as ‘mischievous and misleading.’
    The Supreme Court described it as ‘irrational,’ and we cannot fault this characterisation. The 24 month wilding rule was a publicity stunt which had no place in Conservation, and that is exactly what underlies the Supreme Court’s decision. See extracts from the judgment below, in italics.
    This judgment, and the current unregulated free for all in captive lion breeding and canned hunting is the clearest indicator of the incompetence and dysfunctionality of SA conservation services. Look at the consequences of their mindless promotion and permitting of this awful industry. Wild lions will continue to be poached and captured from game reserves and neighbouring countries to supply fresh blood for the lion breeders, in order to combat captivity depression. The unnatural confinement of predators has the potential to breed pathogens such as feline AIDS which can devastate both captive and wild populations. The barbaric cruelty will increasingly drive away ethical tourism (our share of world tourism is still a miserable less than half of one per cent!) We get emails every day from outraged tourists who refuse to visit this country. And now the captive lion breeders are moving in to selling lion bones for the infamous Chinese traditional medicine market which has already emptied the forests of Asia of their tiger populations.
    In short, thanks to the lack of foresight and intelligence in conservation structures, predators are becoming domesticated livestock – but un-protected by animal cruelty legislation. Imagine the outcry if farmers bred sheep and goats for hunters to shoot arrows in to? Our wildlife desperately needs protection from conservationists, with friends like the current crowd, the lions hardly need enemies.
    What this Supreme Court decision reveals is that captive lion breeding has moved out of conservation, and in to agriculture. Lions have become alternative livestock. Our useless Conservationists have allowed the ‘wild’ to be taken out of our wildlife. Why do we waste taxpayers’ money on them?

    Chris Mercer
    Campaign Against Canned Hunting Inc
    Wilderness, South Africa.

  • william Healley

    What a shame to even say I am a South African living overseas.It is a disgrace what the new South Africa is doing to its animals. Murder of the Rhino population and now this incredible stupid ruling by a so called judge. Wonder how much money went under the table. I can not see another reason for such a ruling. He *or* she is just as quilty as the blood thirsty idiots breeding and murdering this innocent animals. What a coward bunch of people. So corrupt for the name of money. Shame on you so called judge, proud breeders and shameless, coward so called brave hunters. Shame on you.

  • Ailsa Grobler

    I feel horrified and ashamed of humans greed and total lack of foresight in animal protection, especially wild animals. Canned hunting of any kind should receive negative press, and cause public outcry everytime, no matter what is being hunted. The fact that canned lion hunting, has got bigger, more devious in masquarading as legitimate trophy hunting safaris, etc, has almost made it easier for rhino “hunting” under the same auspices. However, the general public is not innocent either, as it is their demands for these animals and their products, for whatever reason, that drives the continuation of such despicable practises. From all the comments I read, and your original article, I cannot help but wonder if the real control should be in exposing to the general public their own roll in this saga, and pointing the “shame finger” at them too? How many consider the following, when offered the opportunity to have a moment of playing with a cub, *or* having a photo taken with it:- Why is the cub there in the first place, is it absolutely necessary? What will be its life after being petted for three months? Has the place got the necessary authorisation to have the cub in the first place? Can they prove that the adult lions are not being abused? Why do they have lions in the first place, are they for cultivating tourism/medicine/hunting? As Joe Public we should be asking these questions whenever we are faced with a situation that is potentially part of the problem you are writing about. In South Africa there are so many conservation trusts and wild animal farms and parks, but who overseas them, and actually makes sure that they are legitimate, and following all the regualations etc? I cannot believe that it is Sanparks, as it seems they are not successful in controling their own areas, and influencing their own surrounds. Media gets involved in emotive issues, *or* “shock” issues, but maybe they need to be more involved in day to day conservation issues and education of their viewers and readers. Having said this I am grateful for journalists like yourself, and the opportunity you give readers like myself to read indepth articles and the resultant comments generated from them. Although I have to say the article is very depressing, I do believe that there are many people who do an incredible job in eco and enviromental conservation, and we need to continue our support of them too.

  • Glenn

    Totally agree with you Ailsa. We need to attack the demand for these practices, as well as tackling it head on. I have been thinking about how a Global Name and Shame campaign against all the people who have participated, are participating *or* will participate in Trophy Hunting could be established and made highly visible. We need to make this sort of hunting unattractive.

  • kathy

    A shame!!! Canned hunts and captive breeding for “hunts” of our diminishing Lion or any other animals!
    You breeders, captive takers and operators if this misuse of animals should be ashamed!!

    You “Great White Hunters” should see how sad your canned hunt of tamed Lion for trophies is! Really!?!?

    You and the operators make me ill!!

    Have you no shame?

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