“Lions were recognised as powerful creatures but unlike hyenas and leopards in the region, they were not killers of humans. Lions were seen as social superiors, and addressed with respect but this was as much a social obligation steeped in tradition as an act of self-preservation.” 

     —Marcus Baynes-Rock and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas 

Two thousand years ago, you could be either thrown to the animals, obicere bestiis, or indulge in the damnatio ad bestias, where you could actually try to defend yourself against a plethora of animals such as  brown bears, leopards, Caspian tigers or Barbary lions. It was Roman capital punishment or a religious sacrifice invented around the 2nd century BC: it consisted of Christians or the condemned such as runaway slaves or criminals whose lives were meant to entertain those of the lower classes. 

More recently, Europeans and later Americans with money have turned their guns on lions, innocent predators who have been made the slaves of the “ruling” class. The news in South Africa is that the heinous practice of raising lions to be shot may be coming to a close. Hopefully none of us, either Christian or atheist, will ever be fed to lions again, and it is to be hoped that the malcontent among us who so yearn to hunt down the king of beasts to prove a very misplaced and hollow manhood, will soon find other ways to define themselves.

Last decade, 6,000 lion skeletons were exported to Asia for traditional Chinese medicine. There were more than 100,000 lions when I first went to Africa, but today there may be no more than 15,000. The lion is the only big cat listed on CITES Appendix II, not the maximum protection they need on Appendix I. Although lions did not get Appendix I listing in 2016, the lion of late has gotten more support from South Africa who will clamp down and hopefully eliminate the practice of raising lions to be shot by so called hunters. One gigantic step for lion conservation and one enormous step for Africa as a whole.

Ironically, in 2008, it was South Africa’s idea to legalize the trade in lion bones from more than 160 lion farms, to substitute lion bones for the tiger bone trade. The announcement by Barbara Creecy, the South Africa Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment came after a 600-page report that recommended that the captive breeding of lions for hunting, cub petting and the keeping of lions for economic gain threatened the species. An immediate moratorium on the trade on lion parts such as bones, which poses a risk to wild lion population, is also being enacted.

Captive bred lions, often targeted in canned hunts, are particularly abused throughout their entire lives. It is a practice that should never have been allowed in the first place. To be confined in an enclosure, with many other animals, disease ridden, forced to have two to three litters of cubs per year, as opposed to one litter every second or third year in the wild, and then shot for the amusement of a so-called hunter, is abhorrent and depraved.

Cubs taken within a few hours of birth caused high stress and anxiety in the mother, who never saw her cubs again. As Pieter Kat of Lion Aid explains, “The main reason breeders separate the young from their mother is because they don't want them to be dependent on their mother. Separation brings the female back into a reproductive position much faster than if the cubs were around. It's a conveyor-belt production of animals.” 

Cubs are taken to petting farms for tourists where constant handling causes diarrhea, and hair loss among other ailments and afflictions, lion cubs assuredly do not deserve and should never experience. The quality of the food they receive is not comparable to mother’s milk. After they are too big to be handled, they become targets for “hunters” who pay anywhere from 5,000 pounds to 25,000 pounds, for the right to execute a creature who not long ago was handled by humans. The lion has no idea what is going to happen to it. The enclosure in which it is released may be no larger than a few thousand hectares. Having been used to humans, the lion has no clue it is about to have its brains blown out by a member of the same species that used to fondle it. Hunters are not stalking the lion, like the Maasai used to on foot. They have a vehicle. Or like some hunters do in the wild. The unsuspecting lion has no chance and often has to be shot several times due to the ineptitude of the hunter. Much as was evinced by the head of the NRA with an elephant only a few days ago. Sometimes a handful of shots are needed to actually bring down the lion causing agony beyond description.

That this diabolical practice and senseless cruelty may be seeing its last days is welcome news for one of the keystone species of Africa and the world. In 2001, just two trophies were exported from South Africa to Laos, Vietnam and China. In 2011 almost 500. And the evidence of farmed lions helping the wild population does not stand either.  According to Fiona Miles, director of Lionsrock, a big cat sanctuary in South Africa run by the charity Four Paws, canned hunts have and are still exacerbating wild lion hunts. There is a price-tag on every wild lion, Fiona exclaims. A financial incentive is created for the local people, who work with poachers to bag a lion. Trophy hunters often start with farmed lions but then may get the incentive to go shoot a wild one. Wild lion populations are not spared. Their numbers have instead plummeted staggeringly. Lions have lost at least 75 percent of their habitat since I first heard a lion roaring in the Chyulu Hils in 1975. 

That there ever was controversy surrounding this practice is astonishing, Ian Michler, head of Blood Lions — which has been trying to stop the farmed lion business — estimates there may be as many as 12,000 in captivity whose lives have been rendered miserable. It is cruelty lions should never face again. A large measure of the future of the wild in Africa will be served by the lion and its incomparable roar. The lion equivalent of slavery must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.

WT Trailer cut 4 from Lightningwood on Vimeo.


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Published on May 06, 2021