It’s time to fully ban canned lion hunting and end South Africa’s shame


Among conservationists, trophy hunting is a contentious topic, hunters argue that hunting brings wealthy tourists to South Africa, which is good for the economy and encourages conservation of the lion population. Animal welfare groups argue that the practice is cruel and of short-term benefit to local communities because once the attractive trophies are taken, hunters move on and that far from conserving lions, in fact hunting is having the opposite effect. 

The lion population is dropping rapidly throughout Africa. A century ago, around 200,000 lions roamed the continent, and now there are a mere 25,000 left. At this rate by 2119, they may all be gone. In addition to hunting, habitat erasure and poaching are major contributors to this. No matter on which side of the divide you fall, it would be hard for even the most ardent hunter to justify canned lion hunting. In canned lion hunting, when a captive lioness gives birth, her cubs are forcibly taken from her, and used as a petting tool for tourists, to pose with and have pictures taken. 

When these lions get bigger and harder to handle, they are moved to an enclosed area and stay there until someone pays to shoot them. They can’t run, hide or defend themselves in any way and are frequently drugged to make it easier for hunters, who often shoot the creature while sitting in their nearby vehicles. It often takes several shots before the animal dies.

About 200 facilities across South Africa breed lions for canned hunting, nearly 90% in the Free State and the North West. At any one time, as many as 6,000 lions are stockpiled for hunters and some 800 canned lions are killed in South Africa every year.

Canned lion hunting is technically illegal in South Africa, but captive-bred lion hunting is allowed. There is a fine line between the two – and regulations differ by province, creating confusion that canned lion hunters take advantage of. The result is that South Africa is now the worst offender in the world of a practice that has been universally condemned as cruel.

Network for Animals (NFA) urgently calls for South African decision makers to address the legislative gaps that allow it to continue. Canned lion hunting has no place in our society, which fundamentally aims to be a kind and honourable one. Canned lion hunting is the reverse of that; a cynical, cruel practice that makes a mockery of wildlife conservation, damages our international image and deeply shames us morally.

Canned lion hunting needs to be stopped by completely outlawing the hunting of tamed lions and lions born in captivity. No government should condone the drugging and shooting of captive animals in a travesty of hunting. It’s time for the legislative loopholes to be closed.

Government should bear in mind that canned lion hunting is not the only danger lions face. Lions are being poached for their feet and bones to be exported to Asian countries, where they are marketed as virtual magic potions – a cure for all ills. It’s ridiculous nonsense with no scientific foundation and if left unchecked, it will wipe out the lion population in Africa. SA is the largest legal exporter of lion bones and skeletons, exporting almost twice the number of lion trophies of all other African countries combined.

Yet, from 2008-2015, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) issued export permits for export of more than 5,363 lion skeletons. Ninety-eight percent of these were destined for Laos and Vietnam, which are known hubs for illegal wildlife trafficking. And in 2017, the DEA approved an increase in the annual export quota to 800 lion skeletons from captive-bred lions.

Now is the time for South Africa to stand up and be counted among those in the world who are committed to preserving wildlife and not wiping it out for short-term profit.

David Barritt, Chief campaigner for international animal welfare organisation, Network for Animals.