One major effect of last week’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service action to list African lions as threatened or endangered across their range is to cripple South Africa’s despicable and deplorable canned hunting industry – as reported this morning by Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner. According to the government of South Africa, there are about 6,000 captive lions held in about 200 facilities where canned lion hunts sell for up to $20,000 each. This backwater industry was exposed recently when MSNBC and other networks screened the documentary Blood Lions.
According to international trade data, American hunters comprise the vast majority of the clientele for South Africa’s notorious African lion canned hunting operations. Of the 429 trophies from captive lions traded internationally in 2014, Americans took the lives of 363, and imported their body parts into the United States – about 85 percent of the total. Our nation has been a big part of the problem, and now we can be part of the solution.
The FWS rule issued last week indicates that the threatened listing for lions in South Africa will bar imports from canned hunting facilities.
The global community was horrified by Walter Palmer’s reprehensible baiting of Cecil, a dominant male lion — with the aid of an elephant carcass — from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe in July and then shooting the widely photographed animal with an arrow. If you thought that was bad, you can be sure that what happens at the captive hunting facilities is even more appalling and unsporting. The animals don’t have a chance, and they are bred first to be handled in petting zoos and then, once they are accustomed to people, to be shot in what amounts to an enlarged, beautified pig pen. Forty five airlines committed not to ship trophies of any lions or other members of the Africa Big Five after the photos of Palmer’s killing spree were splashed on the front pages of newspapers all across the world.
Along with the actions of the airlines and freight carriers, and the new U.S. import restrictions, I applaud France and Australia for banning lion trophy imports this year. Now it’s up to us to get other countries taking in lion trophies – whether from wild hunts or captive hunts – to end their participation in these inhumane practices. Among those countries are the Czech Republic, Poland, and Spain.
In all, American hunters imported 720 lions in 2014, including 620 from South Africa. The two next biggest exporters of lion trophies to the United States are Tanzania and Zimbabwe, both of which have corrupt wildlife management programs. Last year, the United States suspended elephant trophies from these countries because of their reckless management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement, and weak governance.
It’s time to end the canned hunts and the whole bloody business of killing lions for their heads, skins, and other body parts. I’m glad to report real progress on that front this year. We now need to finish the job.