In the early 1900s, around 200,000 African lions roamed the entire country. In 2015, an estimated 20,000 wild lions were in fragmented subpopulations. An estimated 60% of the lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa, were thought to have declined by 60%. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, lion populations are declared vulnerable. However, with fragmented populations, the subspecies Panthera leo leo is critically endangered in West Africa and Endangered in India.
Why is there still an ever-pressing desire and demand for game hunts of species?
A canned hunt refers to shooting an exotic animal on a game farm or hunting ranch for a guaranteed kill. Breeders hand rear animals to ensure they are not afraid of people, and the patrons paying for the hunt are guaranteed to leave with a trophy for their wall. Hunters enter a small enclosure with the animal; the term “canned” used to illustrate the effortlessness.
The animals, sourced from breeding farms, are raised to be used in pay-to-play or cub petting schemes when they are young for profit. Hunters will buy them once they are big enough and will shoot them within the ranch’s confines. Hand-reared lions are more aesthetically pleasing to hunters as they have not had to fend for themselves in the wild. People will selectively breed for specific traits, such as darker manes or white coats. Selective breeding accelerates inbreeding practices, leading to animals with debilitating health issues. Canned hunted animals will also come from roadside zoos, backyard breeders, or from private owners, once owned as someone’s “pet.”
No Conservation Value
Usually, facilities that raise animals for canned hunting, claim they are raising the cats for conservation purposes. They will tell stories of orphaned cubs, and coax patrons into donating their time and money. Easily convinced, the general public believes that what they are doing is genuinely helping the animals have a better life. Many ranch owners also claim to not allow canned hunts on their property but still breed lions to fuel canned hunting. Then, sell their lions to other places that perform canned hunts, so the breeder cannot be held responsible for what happens once they leave the property.
In reality, it is impossible to release captive-bred big cats. Negligent breeding, habituation to people, and lack of fundamental skills make the chances of survival for these animals almost zero. Mothers will almost always have their babies taken prematurely to facilitate speed-breeding. The breeding of wild animals in captivity is not helpful to wild populations. Once they are born into a captive setting, they can never live wild and free.
Where Is This Happening?
Texas has a lucrative canned hunting industry, with the state being home to approximately 4,000 tigers, which is more than the 3,920 that are declining in the wild. There are 500 hunting ranches in the state that allow “exotic animal hunts,” and is substantially growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are over 1,000 exotic hunting ranches in approximately 23 states.
South Africa is also famously known for its canned hunting opportunities, which legally allow the commercial farming and hunting of captive lions. With approximately 160 lion farms in the country, the industry continues to thrive. Two thousand wild lions are roaming free in South Africa. But, over 5,000 live on hunting ranches for this booming hunting business.
The industry can make lots of money by treating animals as a commodity and not as living beings. A canned hunt for a trophy lion can earn upwards of $50,000. Each year, hunters shoot and kill around 1,000 lions in South Africa. This business grows continually because of how they utilized lions in captivity to make a profit. A lack of strict regulation of the trade is also a critical factor in the ever-growing industry. The profits raised from canned hunting also do not aid in conservation; it lines the pockets of the breeders and exploiters who own the game ranches.
Similar Threats to Big Cats
Unfortunately, other ecotourism opportunities such as lion or cheetah walks hurt the animals’ conservation efforts as well. Many tourists pay very little to go on a leisure stroll with an exotic cat. These activities will exploit captive-bred big cats who will never live a healthy life. Some animal welfare activists argue that a live animal is better than a dead one, although public interactions with big cats are still fueling the captive breeding industry. A dark reality for such a glorified and sought after personal experience.
Due to the declining number of tigers to fuel the Asiatic industry of tiger bone wine, the illegal wildlife industry is turning to the substantial populations of lions to create this pseudo-medicine. The black market will slaughter lions for their bones. For these lions, their appearances are irrelevant, so they are often incredibly neglected. Lions sold to the canned hunting trade have to maintain a certain level of animal welfare, so they are aesthetically pleasing. These lions are worth more dead than alive, whether they are being shot and killed by wealthy hunters or slaughtered for their body parts.
Protecting Lions for the Future
Education and awareness are crucial to taking action against the canned hunting and captive breeding industry, to ensure a bright future for Panthera leo. The value of a dollar has to be less important than an animal’s life, and there should be no reason why an apex predator should be shot and killed for sport. Support for the ban on canned hunting and speaking up against the sport are two essentials to making a difference for these animals. Speak up and be a voice for animals that do not have one. The more people that reach out to the government and do not accept the industry, the more pressure they will have to stop it. Demand a nationwide ban on canned hunting. Do not support places that breed wild animals in captivity for exploitation. Share what you have learned! Together we can make a difference!
Resources for How You Can Help:
Four Paws Petition Against Canned Hunting: https://youtu.be/tPoBqCntizw
Contact Congress: Tell them to support HR 1688: The Sportsmanship in Hunting Act (Canned Hunts) HERE.
HSUS Investigation: Cruel Hunting Practices (U.S.): https://youtu.be/XSHEeM4icLc
The Con in Conservation Part 1: https://youtu.be/Hav-1GuVcWQ
The Con in Conservation Part 2: https://youtu.be/2G3HX4Qq_84