In civilised cultures, trophy hunting - killing wild animals for fun and recreation - is generally considered cruel and barbaric. But it is still a booming business in a lot of African nations, where trophy hunters cause many unnecessary deaths out of greed and selfishness.
Africa’s lion population is shrinking drastically, having fallen by at least 42 per cent over the past two decades. As a result, the fees for official permits for wild lion hunting have become exorbitantly high. Sadly, this has given rise to a highly profitable business: the canned lion hunt. Lions that have been raised in captivity are hunted in an enclosed space by wealthy trophy seekers and killed with rifles or crossbows.
Animals have long been pursued by man, especially in Africa, where there is a long tradition of hunting. In canned hunting, the animals are confined to a small area, with no chance of escape. Deprived of a fair chase, the animals are doomed. Many trophy hunters, particularly amateurs, find this kind of hunt very appealing because a kill is guaranteed. This is not the case in the wild. Hunters are also allowed to choose which animal to shoot at close range.
The canned lion hunt industry has grown rapidly in many African countries over the past 10 years, particularly in South Africa, where there are currently more than 250 lion breeding facilities. There are around 6,000 lions in captivity in South Africa, more than three times higher than the number living in the wild. Every year, nearly 1,000 of these captive lions meet a brutal end.
All the lions in these breeding facilities are bred and born in confinement. Some of the facilities are described as sanctuaries dedicated to wildlife conservation. Unaware of their true purpose, overseas volunteers are recruited to help look after the cubs, which are portrayed as orphaned animals desperate for help. The volunteers are told that one day the lions will be reintroduced into the wild. This never happens.
Every stage of each lion’s life is exploited to yield maximum profits. Tourists pay an arm and a leg to visit lion cub petting zoos, go on lion walks and participate in other lion-themed interactive activities. Mature lions are put on the menu for hunters to choose and slay. Every year, hundreds of lion head trophies and skeletons are exported from South Africa to different parts of the world, mainly the US.
There is no doubt that the canned hunting industry is unethical. Despite repeated outcries from conservation and animal welfare groups, many African nations are reluctant to outlaw canned hunting and the related trade in animal parts, or even to regulate them. The reasons are mainly economic. The South African government has openly admitted that canned hunting makes little contribution to wildlife conservation, but it fails to address the issue.
More and more campaigns against this barbaric practice are being launched in many countries. But it will not be eradicated unless the revenue sources of the lion farm operators are cut off. Tourists in Africa are urged to refuse to visit lion farms. Another way to alleviate the plight of the king of the jungle would be for countries around the world, especially the US, to ban the import of lion trophies.