I have for a number of years been warning that canned hunting is on its way to Botswana. After taking a thorough look at the latest export and import statistics for lion Panther leo issued by CITES in South Africa, I am now almost certain that these and other associated practices are already taking place, or are even closer to being open for business.
Under the Gross Import Trade Report: Captive-bred Sources section (www.cites.org) there are 17 lions listed as having been imported by Botswana during the 2008/9 period. This figure is up from three lions in 2006/7 and 12 in 2007/8. What is Botswana doing importing captive-bred lions, let alone 17 of them in one year?
The answer may lie in the following two facts. Firstly, Botswana has one of the healthiest surviving wild lion populations anywhere on the continent, so there is certainly no need for them to be importing lions, especially not captive-bred ones, for conservation purposes. Secondly, while trophy hunting is still practiced in a number of concessions around the country, lion hunting has been banned since the 2008 season. Put these two issues together and there is every reason to be asking whether Botswana is about to become the next canned hunting and predator-breeding hotspot? By-products of these practices are the game farms and amusement parks that will start offering petting and walking-with-lions experiences.
For those involved, Botswana has a number of factors that contribute to making it a suitable place to set up operations. Being neighbours with South Africa has obvious benefits with regard to access and transport costs. But more significantly, there are two regions in the country, Ghanzi and Tuli, that have private property rights (almost 95 per cent of Botswana falls under either communal *or* state land title), and these regions have a strong historical association with hunting. There are also hunters operating in Botswana that hail from regions in South Africa that are notorious for canned hunting and predator breeding.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the predator breeding and canned hunting industries in South Africa are under legislative scrutiny with the possibility of a curtailment in activities looming. And the hunting industry in Botswana would certainly be feeling the impacts of recent reductions in quota and concessions.
Given all these links, it is quite conceivable that lions are being imported to be used as breeding stock and/*or* to be shot in confined areas for their trophies. Given the size of most private farms in the country, the lions are most likely offered as ‘put-and-take’ hunts. In this form of killing, specific animals are ordered for mane size and colour over the Internet, and after being drugged, are moved into an enclosure the day before the hunter arrives.
I encourage the Botswanan government and its wildlife authorities to take a look at what may be happening behind the fences of private farms. And if any operation is offering the soft-touch options – petting and walking for example – participants should ask some serious questions and take a much closer look.