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Africa Hunting

Captive raised lions – cheaper, easier, guaranteed

In South Africa, 99% of the lions trophy hunted are raised in captivity and then released into a fenced field of various dimensions to be shot by intrepid trophy hunters. These lions have been meanwhile bottle fed when young by streams of paying “volunteers”, petted by hordes of people, and walked with when bigger for up to $200 per hour. Then kept in enclosures until “ready” to be hunted. Not surprisingly, these lions have become highly habituated to humans. Yet lion trophy“hunters” flock to South Africa to shoot these lions for several reasons:

a) A “canned” lion is sold for much less than a wild lion – in South Africa a “canned” lion hunt can be bought for between $20,000 to $35,000 (female lions cost around $5,000) compared to $80,000 - $120,000 for a “wild” lion hunt in other countries;
b) A “canned” lion is a guaranteed trophy – 99% of “canned” lion hunters are successful while a “wild” lion hunter might have zero success despite all efforts by the hunting operator including baiting of lions;
c) A “canned” lion trophy is a guaranteed quality – captive raised lions have big manes compared to “wild” lions and often a “canned” lion hunter can choose his captive lion from a “menu” before he/she arrives in South Africa;
d) A “canned” lion is easy to hunt – these lions are after all used to humans and do not attempt to elude the hunter. As a result, some hunting organizations have spoken out against “canned” hunting as it does not satisfy their standards of “fair chase” (where the hunted animal has an opportunity to escape the hunter), does not satisfy their standards of “ethical” hunting, and does not in any way indicate any level of “skill” of the hunter.

It is claimed by trophy hunting organizations that killing lions aids their conservation. This might seem strange, but these organizations claim that by maintaining vast hunting areas set aside for hunters (for example, 250,000 square kilometres in Tanzania alone), the various species benefit by having individuals killed. That concept is contentious, but not addressed here as it clearly does not apply to captive bred lions.

All hunting organizations accept that shooting captive raised lions does nothing for the conservation of the species. Some claim that killing captive raised lions takes the “pressure” off wild populations, but that has been shown to be nonsense – very few of those hunting captive bred lions could afford a wild lion hunt, especially when not guaranteed a trophy.

Using CITES Trade Database export and import records of only the lion “trophy” category (some hunting trophies are exported as “skins”), I looked at 15 countries whose citizens are primarily involved in lion trophy hunting in Africa over the five years 2008-2012 (where CITES export data end):


Total lion trophies 2008-2012

Total from South Africa

Percentage canned lions

























































Czech Rep.




 From that table, one can draw the following conclusions:

a) Canned hunting in South Africa is by far the most popular form of lion hunting in the world today, as an average of 76% of the hunters in the 15 countries most engaged in lion hunting shot canned lions between 2008 and 2102. When looking at the total number of lions shot by hunters in those 15 countries, 74% of those were raised in captivity. No wonder that South African breeders and operators earn more than $10 million annually from canned lion hunts.
b) Lion “hunters” these days have significantly gravitated towards hunts that ensure trophies rather than engaging in any form of supposed lion conservation through hunting or any form of “fair chase” hunting purportedly espoused by hunting organizations including the Professional Hunting Association of South Africa.
c) Not that I advocate any form of lion trophy hunting, but I would say that any country where 75% of lion hunters or more opt for captive raised lions must examine why they allow such imports. Hunters cannot claim any conservation benefits activities that only support a captive breeding industry that is immoral, cruel, and sickening. Yet it continues to grow in South Africa largely because there has been no effective local opposition to the industry. Indeed, when looking at the statistics of captive bred lion trophy hunting in South Africa, it would appear that it has grown from strength to strength (see graph). In 1977, two trophy lions were exported from South Africa, but this grew steadily until 2002, after which the increase became almost exponential until 2008 when a total of 944 lion trophies were exported. The slight decrease in 2009, 2010 and 2011 perhaps can be explained by the global financial crisis, but 2012 saw another upturn to 907 exported lion trophies. Remember that these numbers are only exports and do not account for captive bred lions shot by South African citizens and other resident hunters who did not export their trophies.



In summary, it would appear that lion trophy hunters overwhelmingly shoot captive bred lions, and that this “preference” has led to the current situation where 6,000 to 8,000 lions are being bred in captivity in South Africa to meet the “demand”. It would also appear that despite this provision of captive bred lions to hunters for very many years, little effective action has been taken in South Africa to reduce the trade. It could therefore be concluded that the only means by which such trophy “hunters” will be dissuaded is by preventing imports into the EU and perhaps the USA, a measure likely to be mitigated by a shift in exports to other lion trophy importing countries like Russia and increasingly China. Unless concerted international action is taken to close down this sordid practice, captive bred lions will continue to be shot.

Picture credit: Africa Hunting


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1 Comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 12:06

Skeletal lion

Starved after chewing off his left paw


This lion in Zambia was caught in a bushmeat snare. The lion chewed off his paw to escape and subsequently starved almost to death. He was shot by a hunter to alleviate his suffering – not sure whether he nevertheless became a “trophy”. Skeletal lion 2

Bushmeat poaching is out of control in many areas of Africa. Countless NGOs make patrols and collect snares, but snares re-appear in short order as the poachers themselves are rarely caught. We have advocated disabling the snares but leaving them in place to catch the poachers when they come to check their “catch”….

So far this has fallen on deaf ears it would seem.

But we must find better ways to prevent bushmeat poaching. It has only escalated over the years, and it is not only lions that suffer the consequences.


Picture credit : 


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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 15:18

Richard Bonham

Well done Richard !!


Richard Bonham was honoured yesterday with The Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa. Richard has worked tirelessly for years through his Big Life Foundation to prevent poaching and mitigate wildlife conflict in southwestern Kenya.

LionAid salutes Richard for this well-deserved award and also Prince William for recognizing the work that Richard has done over the years. It has never been easy for Richard and Big Life, and he has always struggled to find the needed funds for the excellent Big Life projects. We hope that with this award Richard and Big Life will now go from strength to strength.

On a personal note, Richard is one of those people who tells you like it is, a quality mostly lost in the increasingly political world of conservation.

So well done Richard, and very well deserved!


Picture credit: Getty images


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Categories: News

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 17:16