Hunting Lions In South Africa
Most of the lion hunting done in the hunting countries above is wild lion hunting and is conducted under strict quota numbers. By far, most lion 'hunting' in South Africa is conducted on captive-bred lions.
From 22 Jan 2016, USF&W have declared all South African lions, including captive-bred lions (now, Panthera leo melanochaita) to be 'threatened' and the issuing of a Threatened Species Import Permit will only be possible if South Africa is judged to have implemented sound lion conservation and management plans.
PHASA has reversed its 2013 position on the hunting of captive-bred lions and will no longer tolerate this form of hunting. This decision was taken at the association's 2015 annual general meeting (AGM), where the majority of PHASA members voted to take a stand against the practice.
The official resolution adopted reads as follows: PHASA distances itself from all captive-bred lion breeding and hunting until such time as the South African Predator Association can convince PHASA and the International Union for Conservation of Nature that captive-bred lion hunting is beneficial to lion conservation.
The above decision is effective immediately and is binding on all PHASA members. If any evidence arises implicating a PHASA member as having participated in the hunting or marketing of a captive-bred lion, such member will be subjected to PHASA's internal disciplinary process, which will include expulsion if found guilty.
Stan Burger, President
Are There Any Wild Lions In South Africa?
In South Africa there are few genuinely wild lions - lions that are completely self-sustaining and largely unmanaged regarding their numbers and demographics. Still, by necessity, these lions are kept in confinement behind fences, though in very large areas. Wild lions are to be found in the Kruger Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and a few other large Parks/Game Reserves. These wild lions are completely protected and not huntable unless they escape from the Park. However by agreement, the fence between the Kruger Park and the bordering Associated Private Nature Reserves, such as Timbavati, Klaserie, Umbabat and Balule, were taken down, leaving the Kruger animals free to roam in these areas. These APNRs also conduct hunting operations with a very limited annual lion quota. So the closest a hunting client can get to hunting a wild lion in South Africa is if he books one of these hunts. However it must be remembered, these wild lions are still somewhat habituated to humans and vehicles which can make them bolder - not necessarily running and taking cover when approached.
In smaller fenced provincial reserves (less than 1000km2) or larger private ranches, there are smaller prides or single prides of, what is termed, 'managed wild lions'. They are primarily kept as a tourist attraction. They are self-sustaining but need management to limit in-breeding and control numbers. These lions demonstrate very different social behaviours from their truly wild cousins, such as breeding at a very early age, reduced natural cub mortality which leads to excessive population growth, no natural male pride takeovers, different prey hunting mechanisms which deplete prey animal numbers too quickly. So one of the management plans, among many, is removing the old pride male which frequently will be sold off to be hunted on another property or occasionally hunted in situ.
Captive Bred Lions In South Africa
Captive lions are bred exclusively to generate money - firstly, as cubs for tourists to pet and 'walk with', then as adults to be shot by 'hunters' and for the burgeoning lion bone trade in the Far East. The majority of lions shot and exported from South Africa were captive-bred. This is a huge and very lucrative business. In 2013 alone, 652 captive bred lions were exported from South Africa as hunting trophies, add at least another 300 or so, which were entered on CITES export permits as 'wild' but must be assumed to have been captive-bred. CITES data reveals an impossibly large number of 'wild' lion hunting trophy exports considering the annual hunting quota of really wild lions from South Africa, is less than 10 individuals.
Any Captive-Bred Lion Shooting Regulations?
Though on the TOPS list which requires the hunter to be in possession of a TOPS permit before the hunting of any of the listed species, the lion is excluded from the Large Predator List, so is not subject to the same regulations as other captive-bred predators and rhino.
This state of affairs exists because if the lion was included, it would be mandatory for a captive lion to be self-sustaining for at least 24 months (re-wilding period), after release into the area where it was due to be shot. Obviously this did not go down well with the lion breeders or operators who conduct lion shoots, as it would "kill the industry" to delay their profit and to provide prey animals for an extra 2 years, so it was challenged in court. They won on the premise that captive lion breeding was, in fact, lion farming and contributed nothing to wildlife conservation, so should not be subject to wildlife legislation. Thus captive-bred lions needed no statutary re-wilding period as they were never wild in the first place.
In an effort to level the playing field, the North-West province has a 're-wilding' or release period of 96 hours into the shooting area. Just enough time for the tranquilizing drugs used for transportation, to wear off in some lions. The Free State has a re-wilding or release period of 30 days. The South African Predators Association recommends 7 days minimum. Other provinces have no stipulated release period.
However, because a captive-bred lion is supposed to be hunted in South Africa, it does become subject to some hunting regulations. It is illegal to hunt a captive bred lion if...
- If the animal is under the influence of a tranquilizer or immobilizing agent.
- Hunting by means of bait, sound, smell or any other luring method. Dead bait mayonly be used when hunting a wild lion within an area with a minimum size of 15 000 hectares.
- If hunted in a small area. No minimum size stipulated.
- If the lion is trapped against a fence or in a small enclosure where the lion does not have a fair chance to evade the 'hunter'.
- If it is hunted in an area adjacent to other lions in captivity.
- By means of dogs, except if the dogs are used to track a wounded lion, or for the purpose of pointing, flushing and retrieving a lion.
- From a motorised vehicle, except for the tracking of the lion if the hunt takes place over long ranges.
- Bow-hunting of lion is permitted.
Even if they are aware of these regulations and want to abide by them, unwary clients may not be able to recognise any illegalities by unscrupulous operators.
- Only a blood test will determine if an individual lion is still under the influence of a tranquilizer. A dopey lion lying under a tree may look completely normal to a client.
- A client will know if his captive-bred lion was obviously baited in the way wild lions are hunted but he will not know if the lion has been previously surreptitiously baited to come a particular area of the ranch. He will also not be aware that the sound and smell of the hunting vehicle is acting as a lure. Commonly a captive-bred lion will associate a vehicle with food and come hurtling out of the bush looking to be fed.
- The size of area is frequently not discernable by an unsuspecting client. The bush landscape looks all the same to an unfamiliar eye, so being driven or led walking around the bush all day can dupe a client into thinking he is in a very large area when it may not be.
- Not shooting a lion in an area adjacent to other lions in captivity was probably created as a result of the practice of shooting a lion in a small compound, within sight and sound of other captive lions separated by a wire fence, which was filmed in the original Cook Report. A canny operator will not usually allow a lion to be shot on the breeding premises but relocate it to a non-adjacent property.
- As can be deduced from the CITES lion trophy export data for South Africa, there are a lot of captive-bred lions masquerading as wild lions.
- See South African Predators Association Norms And Standards 2013 for captive lion breeding and shooting. Not all lion shooting operators are members of this association or abide by these standards.
A quick look at lion shooting videos posted on the Internet will show the blatant disregard some operators have for these basic regulations and the downright lies peddled to clients about the lions being 'wild'.
Does Shooting Captive-Bred Lions Save Wild Lions?
According to the IUCN wild lions have declined by 42% over the past 21 years due to human population growth and the expansion of agriculture causing both lion and prey animal habitat loss along with higher levels of lion/human conflict resulting in more lion deaths.
There are frequent instances of wild lions being translocated to supplement other diminished wild lion populations or re-introduce lions into a range where they used to exist. However captive-bred lions are not suitable to be released into the wild for these purposes due to their anomalous behaviour, dubious genetic origins and habituation to humans.
The assertion by some people that 'hunting' captive-bred lions in South Africa somehow saves the number of wild lions elsewere is fallacious. In the rest of Africa, once the wild lion quota for an area is used up, no more lions can be legally hunted in that year/season. It also assumes the type of 'hunter' who goes on a guaranteed successful, 3 day mega-maned lion shoot in South Africa is the type who can afford to bother slogging around the wilderness for 3 weeks in the hope of successfully hunting a possibly scruffy and scarred wild lion. Of course, wild lions can have spectacular manes but not quite so extravagant as in South Africa and you don't get to select one out of a catalogue. If captive-bred lion shooting in South Africa was banned completely tomorrow and as long as the quota of wild lions allowed to be hunted in the rest of Africa is strictly adhered to, it will not affect the wild lion population numbers from the hunting standpoint. It may drive wild lion hunting prices up which may be no bad thing. Wild lion populations are still at risk from poaching for bones and poisoning by local pasturalists. Without the financial input from hunting clients and diligent anti-poaching measures by hunting companies, the wild lion numbers would be even worse.