- The illegal captive breeding and holding of lions on private farms is becoming a problem in South Africa. Under the protest of wildlife authorities and environmental groups, a growing number of lions are bred in captivity to be exposed to "canned hunting" in South Africa and abroad.
Only today, six lions arrived at a wildlife sanctuary for safekeeping after officials of the Department of Finance & Economic Development (Branch Environmental Affairs) along with the South African Police Services, (Organised Crime Unit), confiscated them from a privately owned game farm in the Limpopo Province. Warrants to seize, confiscate and remove the lions were issued by a local magistrate.
A spokesperson for the Department said that an application for a permit to import, hold and breed the lions in Limpopo Province had been declined. Despite the department's refusal the applicant went ahead and brought the lions into the Limpopo Province from the Free State, where he has already establish another lion breeding project.
The farmer will now be charged for the illegal import, holding and breeding of lions and could face a fine of up to rand 15 000.00 per animal, if found guilty by a court of law. The lions - a black maned male, two adult females and three cubs - meanwhile have settled down well and will remain at the sanctuary until the legal process will determine their fate.
In the Limpopo Province in the north-eastern part of South Africa, there are quite a few lions being held in captive breeding projects illegally, activists say. The Limpopo Department of Finance says it will proceed to charge individuals concerned.
A new holding facility for large predators has even been constructed and this is to allow the Department to "more effectively remove illegally held animals and charge the offenders." A spokesperson said that "the irresponsible disregard for conservation laws will not be tolerated any longer" and that his department is ready to step up their law enforcement efforts.
One of the lionesses captured today was reported to be pregnant and it was established that both the adult females had already given birth to cubs, which had been removed to be hand raised. The farm manager's wife claimed that neither of the lionesses could produce milk and they had no choice, but to remove the cubs for hand rearing.
A spokesperson for the sanctuary questioned this and strongly condemned the practise of lion breeding where very small cubs are removed off their mothers soon after birth and said that it is common practise amongst lion breeders to remove cubs from their mother to allow the female to come into oestrus sooner so that she can produce more cubs.
Lions are being bred at larger numbers in South Africa as the country increasingly becomes a destination for wildlife tourists. In addition to South Africa's many world famous national parks, the country also has a multitude of private parks and wildlife reserves, many of which offer the paying tourist hunting opportunities. Lion hunting remains the ultimate experience for many.
Thus, an industry of "canned hunting" has grown in South Africa, parallel to trends in other wildlife and hunting destinations. A so-called "canned hunt" takes place on a fenced piece of private property where a hunter can pay a fee to shoot a captive animal, which has been raised in captivity.
In South Africa, private "game parks" have specialised on the canned hunting of lions and rhinoceroses - the two animals fetching the highest "hunting" fees worldwide. Some shooting preserves charge up to US$ 20,000 for a lion or a rhinoceros.
Although canned hunting is a "promising industry", South African wildlife and tourism authorities have found this practice difficult to combine with the country's otherwise positive image. Already in 1997, the international Cooke Report exposed unethical lion hunting practises in South Africa and authorities promised to react.
Since that, however, various animals' rights and welfare groups have slammed the South African government's lack of action to stop the practise of breeding lions in captivity to supply a growing demand from trophy hunters. However a new policy governing the utilization and management of large predators has recently been government gazetted.
Louise Joubert of the SanWild Wildlife Trust comments that despite pressure by international animals' welfare groups that have cashed in on the canned lion hunting industry the problem remains to be solved by the South African authorities. She welcomed this move and said that "it is time that the blatant disregard for conservation laws in South Africa is dealt with decisively and immediately."
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