If you can breed mink in a cage, then you can breed lions
We often find the prevailing view of Africa hilarious. Except for the very small percentage of non-Africans who have actually visited the continent, the vast majority of foreigners either does not know where Africa is, or they do not know we also live in cities, enjoy all modern amenities, send our children to university, and provide both thought leadership and pioneering research in many fields.
Still, the romantic, colonial image of Africa as the dark continent persists and will probably continue to do so until we contribute our rightful share to the world economy. It is similar to many consumers worldwide only realising in the last couple of years that China manufactures more than just fancy teacups, bamboo sticks and cheap plastic junk.
We find the pervasive African image funny, but when it hurts us, then the entertainment value suddenly drops. Take for instance the very contentious issue of breeding lions for hunting.
A report sent to me earlier this week hailed a recent American decision to ban the import of lion products as a major conservation achievement. This is utter nonsense and it is only viewed in that light by the same deluded people who think they are doing us a favour by blocking the trade in lion products.
This report makes a big deal of the fact that 85% of all canned lions are hunted by Americans and that they will now be prevented to import their dear trophies into the USA. What a shame.
As is typical, the do-gooders are not familiar with either fact or reality.
Lions bred in captivity for the specific purpose to become a huntable trophy, serve a very important economic and conservation role.
Wild lions need large territories to exist. This is brought home very clearly on the world-renowned lion expert, Dr Flip Stander’s website where one can get an inkling of the size of the area he has dedicated his life to protect. Another comparison can be found in the fact that Etosha, large and almost virgin as it is, supports a wild lion population of only around 300 animals.
The fact is, wild lions populations everywhere in Africa and India are vulnerable and it is a sad incident when one of Dr Stander’s lions is shot due to predator human conflict. It is equally sad when rare lion subspecies in the Sahel face extinction because it is so easy to poach in these unregulated regions. But banning the trade in trophies will not solve anything.
The real solution lies in breeding lions in captivity, make them available to overseas hunters, charge for the trophy and the service, and assist the hunter to get his or her trophy back home for display. This activity has been slandered by the popular media and is widely know as canned lion hunting. It is portrayed as inhumane, primitive, and contributing to the demise of the wild population. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Breeding lions in captivity for the hunting trade must be encouraged. The very successful South African lion trade has proven this over and over again. A market exists for serious hunters to shoot their trophies in South Africa, particularly in the North West Province where most legal hunts are conducted despite the fact that the biggest number of breeders are located in the Orange Free State. This has to do with regulations and compliance.
If the soft-hearted find the idea of shooting a lion repulsive, it is their right to voice their disapproval, but this is a question of ethics and not of economy.
Captive lions is a part of the hunting industry, in turn a part of tourism. Call it adventure tourism if you want. Every lion bred in captivity that becomes a trophy animal has generated an income along the way, and it has earned the host country some hard foreign currency. It is part and parcel of the same mechanism that drives tourism.
Consider this – every canned lion has saved the life of at least one wild lion. The important issue is not to confuse the benefits of conservation for eco-tourism with the direct benefit of generating income while at the same time helping to protect the wild population. It would have been lovely to remain stuck in the romantic notion of Africa but that is simply not reality. As communities grow and develop, they come into conflict with wild animal populations. That is why we have statutory protected areas. But if an enterprising group of lion breeders manages to supply in the demand for huntable animals, and helps protect the wild population, then do not let emotions kill a lucrative industry. After all, we are not cultivating poppy fields.