‘Canned’ Hunting – The ‘End Game’

Stephen Wiggins Article, Video 7 Comments

Banner image: courtesy of Campaign Against Canned Hunting article

‘Canned’ Phase Out

We have seen the acknowledged damage being done to South Africa’s reputation from its continued harbouring of ‘canned’ practices. The ‘canned’ industry is in steep decline (with a reported 70% drop in the ‘appetite’ for ‘canned’ executions of bred stock).


Figure 1 – “Sir David Scholey and his trophy lion execution” – pictures-of-cats.org

Captive breeders are openly offering lion cubs for sale on facebook (Otavi Lion Park), but with the dubious reassurance that the cubs will only be sold to licensed facilities; not that this is much reassurance even if it is true – where the cubs might be sold onto next (and the paper trail obfuscated) is anyone’s guess.

So what happens next if ‘canned’ is indeed declining towards an ‘end game?’ Chris Mercer (Campaign Against Canned Hunting) has released a video, where he eloquently outlines his thoughts on the likely scenario that could unfold in South Africa:

Video 1  – The phasing out of ‘canned’ lion breeding by Chris Mercer, Campaign Against Canned Hunting 


So, the points we can take away from Chris’s message are:

  1. There is no realistic prospect of the release into the wild of the 7,000 – 8,000 captive lions held in ‘canned’ facilities in South Africa;
  2. The mass euthanasia of the captives in the short term is improbable;
  3. The prevention (banning) of further expansion of ‘canned’ stock must be implemented – continued breeding for breeding’s sake of ‘stock’ makes no economic (or moral sense) for anyone concerned;
  4. ‘Ethical’ hunting associations have a key role to play here – I am thinking the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) has taken a vital stance, as of November 2015 which should be widely welcomed against ‘canned’ hunting and predator breeding (though it must be noted, that the PHASA’s stance is somewhat ‘late’ seeing as how ‘canned’ has perpetuated for some 25 years within the PHASA’s remit);
  5. The South African Government (Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa) needs to take some kind of stance, if the ‘canned’ phase out is to have a humane and orderly progression – however, no Government outright ban will be forthcoming, as this would expose the Government to claims for compensation for closing down the ‘canned’ industry the South African Government has clearly allowed to manifest (thereby tacitly supporting the ‘canned’ industry to the point of complicity);

I agree with the ‘canned’ phase out approach advocated (Chris Mercer (CACH), LionAidBlood Lions etc.)

  1. No release into the wild – Many ‘canned’ animals are hand reared and fed, often poorly bred from a limited gene pool (ie. genetically mutated) and not in strong enough health to survive in the wild. Lions exist in strong pride structures. Any disruption to a given pride, or territory disputes between an established pride and a ‘new’ pride can be devastating. So, the chances of any successful, or risk free reintroduction of any ‘canned’ (or indeed “ranch” stock) into the wild is pure fantasy;
  2. No mass euthanasia – Not likely when the ‘stock’ potentially has some cash-out value to the breeder, either as cannon fodder for so-called hunters, and/or lion bone trade to Asia (with CITES Permit complicity);
  3. A halt to continued ‘canned’ breeding – When it comes to the phasing out of ‘canned’, how will any ‘ban’ on breeding of further ‘canned’ stock happen and the end game pan out do you think? Will the lion farmers:

a. Just be forced to separate out the males and females;

The lion breeders will separate the males and females, probably with a preference for euthanizing the females (with CITES permits ‘obtained’ to profit from bone trade to Asia  etc.) and selling off the males for trophies as the industry winds down.

b. Or, would there need to be a mandated ‘canned’ lion contraception programme? The fact that the majority of the ‘canned’ captive stock is held in small cages makes separation out more likely, but in some scenarios, perhaps a contraception programme might be necessary (?).  I believe this is not an inexpensive option, as based upon Bubye Valley Conservancy (B.V.C) discussion of the ‘surplus 200 lions’ earlier in the year out of a B.V.C claimed stock of 500 lions:

Paul Bartels, a wildlife scientist from South Africa’s Tshwane University of Technology, said female contraceptive implants used in smaller reserves would be impractical for Matilda’s (B.V.C) clan:

There are a lot of lions on that [Bubye] conservancy. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for contraception to make any real difference,” he said (Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2016).

I wonder how the costs and implementation of any captive lion contraception programme necessary [assuming it’s necessary] will be met? I doubt the lion breeders will dent their own wallets, but they will expect compensation for any such scheme (which means actual South African authority intervention, mandated action and funding – how likely is that?).

c. Sneak lions out to zoos, ‘enthusiasts’ etc.:

– Leon de Swardt “is a South African based lion breeder and animal brokerreportedly sellingto international buyers, many from Pakistan, who are interested in buying lions, tigers and other animals;”

– Otavi Lion Park is openly trying to sell lion cubs via facebook – despite reassurances that they will only sell to “licensed” facilities, there is little comfort that an onward secondary market devoid of any legitimate paper trail will emerge;

– I suspect these examples are just the tip of the iceberg……

4.  ‘Ethical’ hunting associations have a key role – The PHASA needs to not just see through on its stated pledge to discipline any errant members that continue to support or indulge in ‘canned.’ But more than that, the PHASA needs to take an active leadership role in restoring any reputation to ‘hunting’ in ensuring the inevitable read-across of an ugly implosion of ‘canned’ is mitigated in the PHASA’s own self-interest – the PHASA can not conveniently disassociate itself from ‘canned’ as of November 2015 after decades of prior endorsement.

5. What incentive is there for any South African Government intervention? – Well there is South Africa’s general tourism reputation (and its $9.5bn (2012) income) at stake. What will that reputation look like if the South African Government continues to stand aside like a bewildered on-looker, but with the complicit blood still dripping from its hands as the ‘canned’ captives perish?

What are the ‘Canned’ Breeding and Hunting Advocates Doing?

Of course, there are those (South African Predator Association (SAPA), SCI, DSC….) that still advocate for ‘canned’ (sorry “ranch”) breeding of big cats to continue to ply its unethical, immoral and unregulated trade for profit from animal exploitation.

The SAPA has a poor reputation for integrity and clear thinking when it comes to their advocacy for ‘conservation’ and ethical behaviour, with desperate, fumbled attempts to garner ‘good’ publicity/support (and failing):

  • Update (16 September 2016): The third party accusations previously made and repeated in this article have been strongly denied. The third party source is apparently reinvestigating – in the meantime the accusations have been removed.
  • In a recent (August 2016) ‘attempt’ at good PR, the SAPA highlighted its efforts to save drought stricken animals of Marloth Park. However, Allison Fitzgerald (organizer and feed coordinator for the Marloth Wildlife Fund) has since explained that she had received a phone call from a farmer who said his driver was en-route to Marloth with a bakkie [truck] load of feed for the rhino:

At no time did anyone identify themselves as representatives of SAPA or any predator association” Fitzgerald said.  After the feed had been delivered, and the bakkie had departed, she was later astonished to be notified of the claims on the lion farmers’ SAPA website, alleging its members and the Predators association had saved drought-stricken rhinos at Leeuspruit.

Fitzgerald reacted strongly, stating on social media stating “We would like to distance ourselves from reports that we are assisted by SAPA (SA Predator Association) At no time did Ian Otto identify himself as having any connection to them. We were contacted by him to say they were bringing 29 bales donated from a Lucerne farmer who had read the story in the Beeld. The vehicle had no sign or identification of SAPA and we strongly deny the report that they claim to have saved the Rhino. It is nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt” Fitzgerald wrote – CACH, 12 August 2016.


Figure 2 – The SAPA also posted ‘photo-shopped’ pictures of the anonymous ‘bakkie’ used in the dupe (sorry, attempted good PR stunt) on Marloth Wildlife Fund – CACH

Update: “SAPA clarifies its clear-cut regulations after being shamed for ‘publicity stunt’,” Traveller24 News, 17 August 2016


How will a phase out ‘work’ and be humanely possible for all 7,000 – 8,000 suspected captives is debateable without an orderly (ie. Authority) intervention from outside the ‘canned’ industry. With no such intervention, I think we will see many more desperate and cruel Walter Slippers’ type scenarios unfold.


Figure 3 – Image from Walter Slippers’ breeding facility, July 2016

Walter Slippers (Leon de Swardt and others) hold onto the delusion that predator breeding is no different from raising sheep herds (“what is all the fuss about?“) and it’s the “antis” that have ‘forced’ them to desperate measures – of course, there are always less morally reprehensible ways to make a living and ‘canned’ is long overdue to become a failed business model relegated to the past:

Of course for anyone capable of rational thought, there is a clear distinction between ‘domesticated’ herds (cows and sheep in a field happily eating grass) and iconic wildlife species that have complex societal structures and bonds, strong territorial instincts and dynamics, want/need to roam (hunt prey in the case of lions) etc….confinement and human management does not suit them. Plus, once an iconic wildlife species is demeaned to mere ‘commodity’ (as per ‘domesticated’ herds) then the wildlife’s appeal as a tourist highlight in country is diminished –  damaging brand South Africa Tourism.

CITES CoP17 Logo

If [when!] the African lion is ‘Uplisted’ to CITES Appendix I later this year, this will make any ‘legal’ trade much harder (in theory). Unfortunately, the likelihood is any ‘Uplisting’ will be watered down:

The more likely outcome is that western and central African lions are placed on Appendix I, while other populations remain on Appendix II. This is the same sort of scenario applying to rhino and elephant populations in Africa” – LionAid, 5 May 2016

This watering down is supported by the European Union it seems:

Recognizing nonetheless that most Western and Central African populations meet the criteria for listing in Appendix I, the Union would be supporting a split-listing whereby the African population of the species could be transferred to Appendix I, with exclusion of certain Southern and possibly Eastern African national populations” – European Commission, COM(2016) 437 final, ANNEX 2 – page 11, Proposal 4, 1 July 2016

IUCN congress

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Motion 009  (“the prohibition by the South African Government on the capture of wild lions for breeding or keeping in captivity“) is due for debate at the forthcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress, 1 – 10 September 2016:

IUCN Motion 009 – “Terminating the hunting of captive-bred lions (Panthera leo) and other predators and captive breeding for commercial, non-conservation purposes” – “NOTING that the great majority of hunters regard ‘canned hunting’ as an ethically repugnant embarrassment” – IUCN’s Motion 009

So, perhaps the IUCN are soon to vocally add their support for the ending of ‘canned.’

Update, 4 September 2016 – The Republic of South Africa, Department: Environmental Affairs issues a defiant statement in response to the IUCN’s motion – “However, South Africa, cautions against assumptions that the adoption of this motion will result in the shutting down of facilities.”

The realisation of ‘canned’ supporters to actively contribute ‘positively’ to the inevitable end game of ‘canned’ is not expected anytime soon; but that end game is looming whether they like it, or not.

Comments 7

  1. Charlie Paxton

    From the onset of captive breeding, to volunteerism and onto canned hunting, many have been calling for the breeding process to be investigated and stopped. The abuse of particularly the breeding lioness is brutal, however here we are with 8000 lions to dispose of….there are no happy live and let live solutions here. I suggested the following: 1) raise funds through paid fines and taxes for each lion in captivity from their breeders and those who canned hunt, like a levy per lion. 2) record all lions and enter into a data base, use funds raised to fund this and to do an extensive DNA anaylsis and examination of all lions on record, 3) all the lions with healthy DNA, that are in good condition and physically fit, that are good breeding material confiscate and bring to legitimate lion rehabilitation sanctuaries/centres. Use funds raised to expand holding camps and support feeding. 4) The remaining lions that do not make this grade be farmed out to monitored and controlled euthanasia, even if this is a form of legal hunting, for which the hunters pay and those funds go into the main fund to support the program. 5) Lion parts, bones, valued bits become state property, but the hunter who paid for his trophy, be allowed to have it, with a certificate that his payment is going to support the rehabilitation of the remaining healthy lions. 6) The selected breeding group of lions to be assessed by lion behavioural experts to evaluate and further select lions that have characteristics that may enable them to be re-wilded successfully. 7) remove those who do not make the grade and seek homes for these in sanctuaries, good zoos, game farms that will give them good safe caring homes, those who cannot be re-homed to be euthanised and if there is no alternative offered to hunters under monitored and controlled conditions. 8) This will leave the Save Captive Lions for reintroduction to the wild project, with perhaps 25% of the total population that is around 2000 lions? Perhaps less? 9) Bearing in mind that hand-reared lions will always have less fear of humans and pose a threat to tourism, using the DNA data, areas that have declining wild lion populations where this genetic input is required be identified, such as Luiwa plains among others. 9) Limit and conceal all human interaction 10) develop a series of holding and releasing camps, where the lions can undergo a hacking back (re-wilding) process, where the selected lions are released and support fed in the smaller camp, once adapted released into the bigger camp with huntable game suited to their needs, support feeding is reduced forcing the lions to hunt. This needs to be monitored and support feeding maintained if necessary the process can take months if not years and may not work for all the lions you are trying to release. 11) by this time if there is a pride of wild lions they will have explored the fenced boundaries and both prides will know all about each other, lion behavior experts will need to gauge if they will tolerate each other presence and hopefully if it is well planned in terms of age and sex ratio even accept each other. 12) If the hand-reared lions are able to fend for themselves then they can be released with tracking devices! These are my suggestions, not perfect and not a solution that many will like or consider valuable, but come up with something better if you can

    1. Post
      Stephen Wiggins

      Charlie, Thank you for your comment.

      The main problem in developing/finding suitable sanctuary space is of course funding it for the entire duration anticipated. Most of the current ‘canned’ breeding facilities are too cramped and basically inadequate for such conversion and use – so whole new swathes of land and appropriate sanctuary infrastructure would be required. Lions require a great deal of space (when not ‘canned’) and have complex dynamics, which means that re-homing lions with other lions is no easy (or risk free) task even in sanctuary, let alone the wild.

      The current range of ‘real’ sanctuaries are full; it’s becoming an increasing struggle (ref. Captured in Africa Foundation), where rehoming lions in ones and twos is proving problematic.

      Also, reliable figures (ref Lion Crisis article) indicate that is costs 34,000 South African Rand (ZAR) (£1.8k GBP, or $2.32k USD) to feed one lion per year – on top of this there are vets fees, supplements and fixed overheads for land leasing, staff, fencing, maintenance etc.

      Estimates suggest that there are some 7,000 to 8,000 ‘captive’ lions in South African ‘canned’ breeding farms – so that equates to a feed only bill per annum in total of 272m ZAR (£14.4m GBP, $18.56m USD). Lions can live up to 20 years, so there needs to be serious backing per year to just feed so many lions (and any offspring generated, unless strict no-breeding in captivity policies are employed).

      The suggested selection of some screened ‘canned’ stock into captivity (25%, so 2,000 is suggested) is a potential way ahead to limit the financial liability (but it would still be a massive undertaking both financially and in terms of basic infrastructure). To make it work, would also mean the lion breeders participating in the independent analysis of their stock (DNA testing) and the donation (for free) of the ‘best’ stock to sanctuary (as buying stock to sanctuary would just encourage the production of more ‘canned’ stock without legal restrictions in place on the continued breeding of ‘canned’ stock). That looks a distant hope; co-operation/constructive dialogue based upon the SAPA’s current leadership and rhetoric appears non-existent.

      I have seen the suggestion, where the shooting out of the remaining ‘canned’ lion stock incurs a levy (on the hunter(s)) to pay for sanctuary of previously ‘canned’ stock). But the levy (which might generate say $4.375m USD @ 5% by my estimates – 3,500 lion trophies x $25k USD x 5%) would need to be mandated and collected by Government authority, which means enacting legislation and actual regulation, which the breeders/hunting out-fitters would no doubt resist on principle. That leaves Government directly funding sanctuary, which seems just as unlikely, as the enduring liability would be massive (the estimated $4.375m USD ‘levy’ would not feed 2,000 lions for a year, let alone pay additional on-going sanctuary costs for life expectancy).

      The potential for “re-wilding” of any previously ‘canned’ stock looks daunting – on any sort of large scale enterprise. How does anyone take a previous ‘canned,’ hand reared lion and teach it (or its offspring) to hunt prey? What happens when any such “re-wilding” of a previously ‘canned’/ sanctuary lion(s) ends up in human/lion conflict, because such lions are so used to humans and expect to be fed by humans, or indeed start to feed on humans because they seek proximity?

      One thing is for sure, the predator breeders have self-created a horrendous problem based on their own determination for unhindered animal exploitation to breed stock for profit (and profit only), with seemingly complicit authority backing.

  2. Lisa Scharin

    I’ve been petitioning and participating in the Marches, tweets, etc over the past few years to END this. South Africa MUST realize that without their iconic, heritage animals-they are NOTHING!!! NO one will go there on vacation if there are NO elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, hippos and other magnificent animals! They WILL LOSE the magic, diversity that GOD has Blessed them with! They WILL lose ALL respect throughout the WORLD IF they do NOT seriously combat poaching, END “canned hunting” and ALL trophy hunting as well!!! Millions oppose this and when the NEW President is in office in the USA-many WILL demand sanctions on South Africa for threatening the extinction of elephants, rhinos and lions, along with South Africa’s repugnant tolerance of ALL breeding and captive hunting facilities. PLEASE create sanctuaries, refuges and parks where people can travel through and view lions from a distance and lions can live their lives as naturally as possible. These canned hunting facilities can be converted into humane sanctuaries, employ locals and draw tourists.

    1. Post
      Stephen Wiggins

      Lisa, Thank you for your comment.

      I agree, that South Africa’s reputation is at stake, but its complicit actions deserve little sympathy (in my opinion – imo), but international sanctions also look remote (imo).

      I have answered Charlie’s comment above on the likelihood of ‘adequate’ sanctuary creation/funding (imo), which looks highly unlikely purely from the enduring financial commitment required. I have taken the opinion (based on CACH comment) that the conversion of current ‘canned’ breeding farms into suitable sanctuaries (even if funds and the will to enforce such farms’ conversion into sanctuaries was mandated) would be a non-starter. Many predator breeding facilities are too cramped and inadequate in the first place, so whole new sanctuary spaces would need to be acquired and funded for the full life expectancy of all occupants taken in (a massive task indeed).

      How the ‘end game’ will pan out is difficult to contemplate at this stage….

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