The King In The Cage – The Blood Lions Effect

 Controversy is mounting over captive lion breeding programmes throughout Africa, particularly following the recent Blood Lions campaign that shed much-needed light on the canned hunting industry.

The Blood Lions Effect

By Charlie Roberts


Issues surrounding the ethics around captive lion breeding has created a media sensation, much in the same way as the film Blackfish did for SeaWorld’s orcas.

Blood Lions is a 2016 documentary feature film that follows acclaimed environmental journalist and safari operator Ian Michler, and Rick Swazey, an American hunter, as they journey to uncover the realities of the multi-million dollar predator breeding and canned lion hunting industries in South Africa. The film scrutinises farms in South Africa that breed lions in mass numbers, before selling them on to parks where tourists pay to hunt in a “canned” environment.

The Blood Lions campaign argues that very few predator breeding programmes truly benefit conservation. The film has revealed in intimate detail how lucrative it is to breed lions, and how the authorities and most professional hunting and tourism bodies have become complicit in allowing the industries to flourish.

Blood Lions states that the reason so many of these breeding farms have been allowed to develop is down to the lack of legislation and no vetting process for potential farm owners. Currently, anyone with the financial means can set up a lion park so long as they can afford the land, enclosures and animals themselves. The lack of barriers in this regard leaves the door wide open for entrepreneurs rather than real conservationists.

What is Canned Hunting?

A canned hunt is a trophy hunt in which an animal is kept in a confined space, such as in a fenced-in area, increasing the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill. The Guardian defines canned hunting as: “The easy slaughter of animals in fenced areas is called “canned hunting”, perhaps because it’s rather like shooting fish in a barrel. A fully-grown, captive-bred lion is taken from its pen to an enclosed area where it wanders listlessly for some hours before being shot dead by a man with a shotgun, hand-gun or even a crossbow, standing safely on the back of a truck.”

Cub-Cuddlers & Pseudo-Conservation

A rise in awareness surrounding unethical captive volunteer programmes has, fortunately, led to an upsurge in ethical tourism, which attempts to draw people away from cub-cuddling and similar pseudo-conservation work.

Dean Von Brughan Tours are one such ethical business who run wildlife tours in South Africa with a focus on education.

Speaking to My Green World, Von Brughan said, “On my tours, I educate my guests on what ethical tourism is, meaning more specifically no unnecessary breeding and use or trade of animals.”

Von Brughan formerly worked on lion parks however, he said leaving the business was the best thing he could have done. He researches all his tour locations beforehand to ensure they are ethical and feels that he is now truly conducting real conservation work.

Are Captive Breeding Programs Ethical?

While there are some captive breeding programs that play an instrumental role in ensuring species survival for species on the brink of extinction, sadly, many programs throughout South Africa (and globally) are exploiting wildlife under the guise of conservation and ‘voluntourism’.

The Blood Lions film featured a research centre in South Africa named Ukutula, accusing the centre of selling lions to canned hunting organisations.

Dr Gerhardus Scheepers, an independent vet who inspects Ukutula’s lions said that the condition of the animals was immaculate. Scheepers claims that the centre undertakes research that aids conservation, and that Ukutula is subject to an ethics committee which assess the protocols to ensure the animals wellbeing. He said that the centre undertakes important work, in particular, the creation of a lion sperm bank that can be used to safeguard and diversify lion genes worldwide.

German Veterinary Scientist Dr Imke Lüders, also endorses the research being conducted at Ukutula, and describes its worldwide impact, saying, “The work at Ukutula has already produced offspring of endangered Persian leopards and Asiatic Golden Cats.” Dr Lüders views the work as safeguarding the future of Lions and other big cats and highlights the creation of Protocols for artificial insemination as a practical application of the work.

However, a string of animal welfare organisations, wildlife conservationists and Blood Lions’ representatives have labelled the park as a “predator breeding and volunteer tourism operation” that is undertaking “unprofessional practices operating under the guise of species research”.

According to leading conservation NGOs such as Wildlands, Endangered Wildlife Trust and Panthera, captive lion-breeding centres do nothing for conservation. Africa Geographic claims that ‘not  a single captive-bred, hand-reared lion has been successfully released into the wild. Instead, every day in South Africa, two to three captive-bred, effectively tame, lions are killed in canned lion hunts. And helping to fuel this industry are thousands of eager volunteers who unwittingly pay +US$1,000 per week to look after lion cubs that are bred for the bullet’.

The Threatened Lion

>Lion populations have decreased 42% in the last 21 years with one study showing that lions are facing extinction in West Africa.

>The amount of lions held at breeding facilities in South Africa almost doubled between 2005 to 2013, when 6,188 lions (68 percent of South Africa’s total lion population) were held in such facilities.

>Since the 1940s, when lions numbered an estimated 450,000, lion populations have blinked out across the continent. Now they may total as few as 20,000 animals. Scientists connect the drastic decreases in many cases to burgeoning human populations.

>According to government and private sectors sources, it is thought there are about 200 farms and breeding facilities holding somewhere between 6 000 and 8 000 predators in captivity. The vast majority, possibly as many as 7 000 of these, are lions.

How You Can Help

>Do not support unethical tour operators or volunteer operations that advertise cub-cuddling. Be sure to research all volunteer programs thoroughly. For information on identifying unethical volunteer programs, click here.

>Support wildlife conservation programs that are transparent and work with wild populations where necessary. See our list of partner charities here.

>Education is key, with many people being misled by false claims and sensationalist headlines. Always fact check! Only through education can the debate focus on the real issues that leads to effective action.

>Sign up for our newsletter here.

>Download our mobile game app, World of the Wild.




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