Canned Lion Hunting – a brutal passtime

Canned Lion Hunting – a brutal passtime

Since the age of cave men we have been hunting animals for food, clothing and to protect ourselves from being eaten, which would either be done with a spear or a bow and arrow. Since then man has become more intelligent and modernized and so have his weapons. From the humble bow and arrow which took accuracy and skill to hit the target or at least wound the beast, we now have powerful bolt action rifles with a 270g soft point expanding bullet,   powerful scopes on them which can enable you to see a flea dangling from the Spring Bucks eye lash.   Let’s not go down the wrong road though, I don’t have a problem with hunting as long as it’s done ethically, sustainability, whereby the hunter tracks the animal by himself or with a tracker  and the animal you are hunting  has a way to escape. If this doesn’t sound familiar, you are probably supporting canned lion hunting.   The animal you are hunting should not be an endangered species either.

What I and many other conservationists have a problem with is the breeding of lions where the single purpose in life is to be shot. Canned lion (Panthera leo) hunting is a practice where lions are bred in captivity until they are adults or sub adults. The lions (Panthera leo) are then put into small enclosures and a “hunter” stands outside the fence and shoots the lion (Panthera leo) which doesn’t have any means to escape of defend itself. I don’t know about you but that seems a bit unfair. The continental African lion (Panthera leo) population has decreased by some 30% in the last couple of decades, while the species ‘geographic range has diminished by as much as 82%. Key causes for the decline include conflict with farmers over livestock depredation, habitat destruction and fragmentation, along with less wild prey being available. Some hunting activities, conducted by a minority of operators, undermine the public’s perception of trophy hunting as a conservation tool and have prompted legal restrictions in several countries. Many of these activities have little relevance for nature conservation and attract negative press and foster support for hunting bans. These include shooting from vehicles; shooting young or uncommon animals; luring animals from parks; use of bait, spotlights, and dogs and canned hunting. It is suggested that 90% of lions (Panthera leo)  shot in South Africa are canned, although the practice is probably rare or non-existent elsewhere. It is estimated that over 7000 lions (Panthera leo) are held in captivity and approximately 260 breeding farms are scattered around South Africa but could be more.

Canned lion hunting
Photo by Ian Michler

Approximately 18,500  hunting clients from abroad now visit sub-Saharan Africa every year, compared with 8,000 in 1990, and bring in approximately US$201 million per year (without considering economic add ons). Trophy hunting operators are custodians of at least 1.4 million km² in sub-Saharan Africa, exceeding the area occupied by national parks in the countries where hunting is permitted by 22%. The majority of hunting clients come from North America and Europe with the average cost of the trophy alone being between US$8,500 – US$50,000 that’s (R623,438 and £36,891). The primary issue regarding canned lion hunting appears to be welfare concerns associated with raising lions specifically to be killed by hunters. The potential impact of captive bred lion hunting on the wider conservation of lions has been largely overlooked, with the exception of attempts to justify the practice on the grounds that it may reduce pressure from hunters on hunts for wild lions. A counter-argument is that reduced demand could potentially undermine the price of wild lion hunts, thereby reducing incentives for the conservation of wild lions in other African countries. Another potential conservation impact of canned lion (Panthera leo)  hunting is through undermining the credibility of trophy hunting as a conservation-tool in general, at a time when so much contention surrounds the issue.

Canned lion hunting
Photo by Rosemary Wright

The operators involved with canned hunting also separate the cubs from their mothers very early in their life. They sometimes use the cubs to promote conservation by letting the public play with them and pet them at different locations. This is not true and the money gained does not go into conservation but rather goes back into the canned lion owner’s pocket. I think I’ve mentioned this before but the lions that are being bred solely for hunting whether they are adults or cubs have no conservation value what so ever. The only time conservationists would possibly become interested in the captive bred lions is if the wild life population was on the brink of extinction, and this would lead to its own set of problems such as inbreeding within the captive bred lion populations.

Possible Solutions

 There is a significant market among U.S. clients for conservation-friendly hunting. In a survey of prospective clients 45–99% were unwilling to hunt under various scenarios if conservation objectives would be compromised, and 86% were more willing to purchase a hunt if local communities would benefit. Certification would enable clients to select operators on the basis of their commitment to conservation and community development and could create economic incentives for hunting operators to conduct their activities more in line with conservation objectives. Certification would involve rating of operators based on their fulfillment of the following:

(1) conservation criteria adherence to quotas and requirements for sex, age, and minimum size of trophies, contributions to anti-poaching efforts, stocking land only with indigenous, wild-caught animals, and tolerance of predators;

(2) governance and landowner benefit criteria, provision of benefits to and empowerment of local communities, and cooperation with neighbouring land owners/ communities to form conservancies, where relevant; and

(3) adherence to national legislation, registration with national hunting associations, and adherence to agree upon ethical standards The development of a certification program should be a gradual learning process.

Implementation of certification for hunting would be most effective if it were conducted by a single independent body working locally in Africa in liaison with all stakeholders. Cooperation from the organizers of international hunting conventions, where most African hunts are booked, would be vital. They could ban operators who were not certified, bar their trophies from record books, and provide incentives such as price reductions or optimal booth placement for certified operators. A certification system has been suggested in the past, but has not yet been accepted by the hunting industry. Cooperation with the development of such a system would be a major step toward convincing conservationists, African governments, and a sceptical public of the legitimacy of trophy hunting as a conservation tool.

Canned lion hunting
Photo by Pinterest

Only 20,000 wild lion (Panthera leo)  are left in the world. The king of the beasts and the ruler over the Savannah is being threatened with extinction. Once the lion has been shot the hunter feels like “THE MAN” as if they are the ruler of all animals because they shot a lion (Panthera leo).   Africa and indeed the world would become an emptier place if it does not have the presence and the echoing sound of the great lion (Panthera leo) roaring of the Savannah. Wouldn’t it be nice if  men could rather take care of the environment  and the animals that live in it instead of destroying it!

However maybe you think differently about the matter or even have some solution of your own ? Comment below and let me hear your thoughts.

For more information click on these links :


Photos by Pinterest, Ian Michler, Four, Rosemary Wright (A Beating Heart)

Darnie van Jaarsveld- Field Ranger at Witsands Aquifer Nature Reserve.


Lindsey, P., Alexander, R., Balme, G., Midlane, N. & Craig, J. 2012. Possible relationships between the South African captive-bred lion hunting industry and the hunting and conservation of lions elsewhere. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 42: 11–22.

Lindsey, P. A., Frank, L.G., Alexander, R., Mathieson, A. & Nach, S.S.R. 2006. Diversity Trophy Hunting and Conservation in Africa : Problems and one Potential Solution. Conservation Biology, 21(3): 880 – 883.

Four Paws petition campaign.

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