With recent intense backlash against the slaying of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist, Walter Palmer, illegal hunting has been in the spotlight — and for good reason. Palmer lured Cecil out of a national park to just outside the barriers where the hunt was legal. It’s easy to see why people are angry. This killing of a named lion seems much less than legal, and has little validity on moral grounds. However, there’s an industry booming in South Africa that should be making protestors even more furious.

Canned hunting, prevalent in South Africa, involves breeding lions and killing them in controlled environments for sport, and it demands the attention of people everywhere. PHOTO VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Canned hunting, prevalent in South Africa, involves breeding lions and killing them in controlled environments for sport. PHOTO VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

It is called “canned hunting.” Hundreds of farms in South Africa are breeding lions and holding them captive while patrons pay thousands to have one released into a separate fenced in area and shot like a fish in a barrel. The lions are defenseless, and doomed from the start. Cubs are torn away from their mothers an hour after birth to prevent them from becoming dependent while also allowing the mother to become fertile again. As MSNBC highlights, hunters and even most farms argue that they are helping the wild lion population stay level, but 90 percent of the lions killed in the past 50 years died because of this practice. There’s no accountability for these farms, and they turn a blatant blind eye towards obvious fact.

The lion has been long thought of as the King of the Jungle, the mightiest and most royal animal. Canned hunting wipes that entire definition away, putting these mammals on the same level as factory farmed chickens. So where are the laws to help ban the breeding of lions on farms? A few years ago, the South African government tried to ban canned hunting altogether by requiring lions to roam in the wild for at least two years before being hunted, which brought down breeders and hunters’ profits. They then challenged the law, and it was eventually overturned. It’s hard to swallow the fact that some people think it is “not rational” for lions to have any time in their natural state. What does that say about the outrageous dominance humans think they have over a beast that could kill them in an instant?

Who are these hunters anyhow? A dentist from Minnesota hunting wild lions in Zimbabwe? I suppose you would never guess that, which is scary in itself. I wonder what Palmer’s bedside manner was. Are these hunters just in it for the recognition of people who walk into their homes and see dead lion and elephant heads on the wall? Or are there inner demons? Do they need their ego reaffirmed by exercising dominance over wild animals? Are they hungry to kill humans but will do with the next best thing to avoid incarceration? We have to find the root of the problem, which is these people, and determine what it takes to raise our future generations to accept that animals deserve to walk on the same earth, breathe the same air and drink the same water as the rest of us. Showing dominance by killing, not for food or survival, but for sport, is outright wrong.

Seeing as the plan to outright ban captive hunting went sour, another way to possibly stop the hunting industry is to ban breeding on the farms. The owners lose supply of lions to sell to hunters and hunting companies, and hunting would inevitably decline. But it’s necessary to create more laws to protect wild lions and prevent complete extinction due to the blood thirst of these hunters.

MSNBC has featured a remarkable documentary on the subject of captive lion hunting called “Blood Lions.” It highlights how young volunteers unknowingly travel to these breeding farms, believing they’re helping orphaned cubs from the wild back on their feet, when in reality, they are raising them to become breeders and then hunted like their parents. This cycle of misleading young volunteers just looking to help only perpetuates the heartless foundation of the industry. Legitimate sanctuaries are harder to find as the others commercialize their “good” treatment of lions. They may be well treated, in rare cases, but in the end they will all have the same fate.

So what can we do? We can join the Humane Society of the United States and condemn the activity of canned hunting, but what else? We can educate ourselves on the laws that govern what hunters can bring from abroad, like the fact that even endangered species are allowed to be brought back to the U.S. as long as the trophy hunter has a permit. We should start with changing the laws here before pressing our luck with changing laws in South Africa. And vital aspect to spreading awareness is social media! Simply linking an article that brings up the subject does more than enough, and finding, signing and endorsing petitions for change is imperative.

Humans were the ones who started this game of hunting majestic and wild beasts. We are the only ones who can end the game.

  1. This is one of the best articles about canned hunting I’ve read. Thank you, Kylie Tomasiak. Thanks to petitions backed by a social media tsunami of outrage, the South African government is at last paying attention. But you’re right when you say the U.S. must ban the import of trophies. We are complicit as long as the import of trophies is allowed. The Obama administration’s token restrictions are not good enough. Let’s not rest until trophy imports are banned and those abominable lion farms in South Africa are shut down.

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