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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?

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.