By Amanda Watson
Imagine the African continent without lions.
Imagine Simba being listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Imagine that the only place you could see lions would be in a Walt Disney movie.
The first scenario is difficult to imagine. The second scenario plainly silly.
It is at odds with a beast that can weigh more than 200kg, with pointy bits designed to kill at each corner and teeth big enough for people to make necklaces out of.
Yet there it is, registered as vulnerable. Suddenly, the third scenario does not seem so far-fetched.
In 1997 the fur hit the fan when a British broadcaster broke news of canned lion hunting by showing footage of a mother lioness being shot in a small enclosure in front of her cubs.
It died down until last year, when a 2012 video emerged of a “hunter” shooting a lion off the back of a bakkie with a bow and arrow in the Free State.
Adding insult to injury, American hunter Melissa Bachman was vilified late last year for posting a photograph of herself posing next to a lion she had shot in the Maroi Conservancy in Limpopo.
Part of the problem was the growing export market for lion bones, Yolan Friedman of the Endangered Wildlife Trust said.
“Trophy hunters are still concerned about the condition of the animals they want to shoot, so the lions bred in captivity locally are still in relatively good condition,” said Friedman.
Chris Mercer of Campaign against Canned Hunting said that, despite what many people thought, the practice of canned hunting was alive and well in South Africa.
“Many people think it was banned, but only under certain conditions,” said a frustrated Mercer.
“Firstly, there is no legal definition of canned hunting. The threatened and protected species regulations state a lion may not be drugged, it must be in an area of land large enough to comply with the permit condition, which varies from province to province, and thirdly, there must be no other lions watching through the fence.”
He called the three conditions pathetically inadequate. “All people care about is the common sense definition of canned hunting, which is the shooting of a tame, captive bred lion in an enclosure from which it cannot escape.”
Mercer said a March 15 global protest was about canned lion hunting. “However, we do make the point that lion farming in South Africa is going to adversely impact on wild lion populations and could very well cause the extinction of wild lions.”
He claimed this was already under way, as was happening in Botswana, where lionesses were being killed and their cubs smuggled out of the country for canned lion hunting.
“Another problem is lion farming when animals develop captivity depression, which affects their behaviour,” Mercer added.
“Hunters want them to behave like lions when they shoot them, so they have to bring in fresh blood for breeding all the time and the wild population is being drained to sustain this.
“The other thing is because the lion farmers are growing their product, you have factories springing up in Asia to make their fortune turning lion bones into gold.
“Business has to grow, so they will start poaching wild lions, which are regarded as having more potent ‘medicine’.
“It will not be long before we see lions in the wild at the same levels as rhinos.”
As of February, 146 rhinos had been poached this year.
Visit www.cannedlion.org for more details.