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The Commoditization of Killing - Canned Lion Hunting

Canned Lion Hunting

Wildlife hunting in Africa is suddenly big news. Thanks to a tweet by Ricky Gervais (albeit almost 5 years late) about Rebecca Francis and her killing of a giraffe in 2010, and followed closely by news stories of the US's approval of a black rhino hunting license won in a Dallas auction last year, there's now a spotlight on the issue of trophy hunting. While this controversial subject and its often misleading claims to helping conservation efforts is getting its day in the sun, there is another more deadly practice hiding and growing in the shadows in Africa - Canned Lion Hunting.

Peter Barkham of the Guardian likens canned lion hunting to "shooting fish in a barrel". Adult lions raised in captivity and often drugged,  are released into an enclosed area, with no room to run. Hunters, on the back of pick up trucks are able to pick them off with almost guaranteed success. I say almost, because even with all the odds stacked in favor of the hunter, amateurs often miss, just wounding the lions and causing a slow and agonizing death.

This inhuman and unfair sport is a rapidly growing business in South Africa, with revenue in 2012 estimated to be as high as $70 million. At last count there were over 160 lion farms or ranches focused on canned lion hunting and associated industries. They start by capturing lion cubs and then breeding them. Not unlike factory farms for food animals across the world, female lions are separated from their cubs within an hour of birth to quickly retrigger their fertility and ability to breed repeatedly. Cubs are raised in crowded pens and are brought out only to interact with humans in the form of tourist attractions like "petting and walking with lion cubs". An additional source of revenue, these attractions are also used as false claims towards conservation efforts, often misleading volunteers into working on the farms for free.

If it isn't enough that the lions are exploited at every stage of their life for profit, ranchers have found ways to monetize them further even in death. Once the lion is killed, hunters mostly take the head and sometimes the skin of the adult as trophies. The bones of the animal left behind are sold to Asian markets, where big cat bones are still considered to have medicinal properties, creating a vicious cycle of demand and supply with no end in sight.

Lion numbers in the wild are declining rapidly; from over 450,000 in Africa in the 40's to an estimated 20,000 today, the species is on a very dangerous path to extinction right now. More critically the practice of canned lion hunting has shifted the proportion of captive vs. wild lions to almost 3:1. In the US, which is the single largest importer of wildlife and animal trophies, the African wild lion is not on the endangered species list. As a result not even the limitated licensing and oversight policies that are part of the endangered species act, apply to lions and the practice continues unabated. Many African countries too are complicit, by legalizing the industry and those involved. While policymakers and citizens in countries like the UK & Australia are taking action through policies again Canned Lion Hunting, it woukd take significantly more widespread international understanding and support to end this despicable practice.

photo credit: photo via photopin (license)


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