After the international outrage at the cynical killing of Cecil the Lion last year, and the unethical practices exposed in the film Blood Lions which blew the lid off South Africa’s lion breeding industry some of Africa’s largest safari and eco-tourism operators have come together to call for an end to these activities.
The signatories of the statement “strongly request that the respective authorities take note of the mounting global opposition to these practices and begin a process of shutting them down”.
South Arica is home to an estimated 6000 to 8000 captive-bred lions. The majority of these animals are raised for the lucrative trophy hunting industry, frequently in so-called “canned hunts”. The captive-bred lion industry attracts unsuspecting volunteers and tourists who pay to raise and pet lion cubs or walk through the bush with juvenile animals, most of them destined for the hunter’s bullet. The industry also feeds the international trade in lion bones, an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine.
The opposition to the industry was expressed in a statement released at the We Are Africa Conservation Lab, a meeting of some of the biggest names in African travel and conservation.
The signatories commit themselves not to support “any breeder or operator that contributes to the cycle of breeding, exploitation and senseless killing of predators,” including “all petting and ‘walking with lion’ facilities”.
“Many of the individuals and companies that have signed this statement have long been leaders in conservation and ecotourism,” says South African conservationist Ian Michler, who is the main protagonist in Blood Lions . “To have such a large number of significant players within the safari industry stand against an issue sends a powerful message – one that clearly says the breeding and commercial exploitation of predators has no place at all in ethical tourism or sound conservation”.
According Beks Ndlovu, who first exposed Cecil’s Killing and is CEO of African Bush Camps in Zimbabwe, the captive breeding industry has been operating dishonestly for many years, portraying itself as being concerned with conservation and supposedly raising animals to be re-introduced into the wild.
“It has become clear that what started as a rescue and capture industry has now become an extremely profitable business that deceives well-meaning people into thinking their contribution is a positive one”.
In so doing, he believes that the industry has diverted funds from ethical tourist operations and genuine conservation efforts.”The ultimate impact of this fraudulent industry is that it creates an illegal market for the trade in key wildlife species and threatens the very survival of those animals in the wild while posing a serious threat to the sustainability of tourism”.
Describing the effect of the captive-breeding industry as “cancerous”, Ndlovu applauds the initiative of which African Bush Camps is a signatory.
Michael Lorentz, CEO of the safari company Passage To Africa agrees with Ndlovu’s assessment: “The captive breeding industry is exploitative, consumerist and misleading to the tourist. Their final purpose is creating as many profitable opportunities as they can off these animals. Petting cubs, walking with lions, canned hunting, selling their bones – it’s consuming the same animal many times over, none of which is for the well being of the animal or indeed for conservation”.
“It’s important that ethical safari operators convey the right message to tourists: that we are transparent, that we don’t greenwash and emotionally manipulate, that we offer experiences that engage with conservation in a meaningful way,” says Lorentz. “For me, if you have any ethics, you have no choice but to reject these types of offerings. The time of ‘we didn’t know’ is over”.
“It is vital that the predator breeders, canned hunters and petting facilities, as well as the authorities know and understand that the Blood Lions campaign is a global one, supported by almost every recognized conservation agency and responsible tourism operator,” Michler explains. “This statement adds to the momentum building against these practices. We hope that at some stage the authorities realise the extent of the opposition, and that they have far more to gain by acting than by not doing anything”.
South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom in his appearance in Blood Lions, acknowledes that the captive lion breeding industry has damaged Brand South Africa. The question that remains on the mind of many critics is whether his government has done enough to counteract the negative international image that is being created of South Africa and to root out the industry’s unethical operators.