Every year, hunters around the world including those in Australia participate in “trophy hunting,” the act in which hunters bring home dead animals to display as trophies and souvenirs on their walls. Trophy hunting takes place in many countries including Australia and New Zealand.
Nearly all wild species are available for trophy hunting – ranging from native species like the kangaroo in Australia to even threatened species such as the lion and elephant – it is just a question of money.
What is 'Canned Hunting'?
In 1997, the Cook Report, a British TV investigative documentary series, exposed the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa and introduced the phrase 'canned lion hunting'. The term is used for the commercial shooting of captive bred and often habituated big cats, who have lost their fear of humans, in fenced-off and confined enclosures on private hunting farms, where the animal has little to no chance of escape.
Canned hunting increases the chance to successfully kill the trophy animal in the shortest amount of time possible and is especially popular with the more inexperienced hunters. In some cases, big cats are drugged to make it even easier for its hunter to hit the target.
Proponents of this kind of trophy hunting often use terms such as ranch hunting, captive hunting or put and take hunting instead of the tainted term 'canned hunting'. However, this is all semantics, as they all describe the same kind of trophy hunting that doesn’t involve a 'fair chase'.
What is a 'fair chase'?
Fair chase is a term, used by professional hunting associations, to describe a type of trophy hunting that involves wild animals exhibiting natural behaviours and that takes place in large areas with plenty of chance for the animals to escape.
Trophy hunting in South Africa
South Africa is one such popular destination. Home to nearly 300 species of wild mammals, including the 'Big 5' – lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo – South Africa has a sinister captive wild animal industry. Bull elephants with the biggest tusks and large lions with dark manes like Cecil are the preferred targets.
From 2008-2018, South Africa exported on average per year over a 1000 lion hunting trophies with most of the trophies originating from captive bred lions. Captive breeding also facilitates rarities, such as white lions and white tigers, which are more valuable and on high demand from trophy hunters. The top 5 countries where South Africa reported to export to, are the USA, Spain, Russia, Canada and China.
The breeding industry uses animals such as lions for cub petting attraction for unknowing tourists under the claim that it is for sustainable use. Later these will be used as easy targets for the canned hunting business, or they will be killed and sold for their parts and derivatives mostly for the usage of 'Traditional Medicine' in Asia'.
A matter of money
Between the fourth and seventh year of their life, lions reach their 'trophy age' and are offered for hunting. In many cases, hunts do not take place at the same farms where the animal were bred. Instead, lions are transported to other areas and killed there. Most of the breeding and hunting areas in South Africa are located in the provinces of Free State, North West and Limpopo. In the approximately 300 farms, estimates range between 10,000 and 12,000 lions who are waiting to die.
In South Africa, 2 to 3 lions are shot every day within the canned hunting industry.
Canned hunting is a hobby for a wealthy minority. The thicker the wallet, the bigger the trophy. Shooting a male lion costs about AUD$40,000 and animals with particularly dark, thick manes are sometimes even sold for AUD$75,000. It is possible to get lionesses for AUD$8,200 or less. In some breeding farms, even cubs are offered for hunting!
The Myth of 'Hunting in the Name of Conservation'
Canned hunting proponents claim that this form of trophy hunting serves to protect the species. Hunters shooting lions from the canned hunting industry will not have to shoot wild lions. But in fact, the opposite is true: legal trade, facilitated by the trophy hunting industry, opens up the opportunity for illegal trade and causes a real threat to wild big cat populations.
Moreover, the government of South Africa allows for skeletons of lions to be exported. Lion skeletons, together with products from other endangered big cats such as tigers, are exported to Asia where they are used as ingredients for the 'Traditional Medicine' market. South Africa maintains a controversial export quota of 800 lion skeletons, which was based on a cherry-picked research and questionable deductions. This quota increases pressure on living and endangered big cats, by stimulating the demand for products from big cats. It is expected to have a negative effect on wild lions, which is emphasised by the recent increases in poaching of wild lions for their body parts.
Progress for endangered wildlife: Australia bans import of lion trophies
Fortunately, in March 2015, Australia banned the import of lion body parts to prevent hunters from bringing home lion hunting trophies. The ban sets a global precedent for the protection of African lions.
Australia treats the African lion as if they are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix I provides the highest level of protection for species that are threatened with extinction. The decision means that importing lion body parts, including hunting trophies, is no longer be possible, except for scientific purposes and breeding programmes.
Australia has also imposed restrictions for other wildlife trophies from Africa. Rhino hunting trophies are also no longer allowed to be imported as personal and household effects in Australia. And as of 26 November 2019, Australians bringing back giraffe trophies will also require CITES permits to bring giraffe specimens into Australia. Read more on Australia's commitment to CITES here.
FOUR PAWS calls on governments to ban the commercial wildlife trade as part of pandemic prevention, and thus, protect this endangered species and other wild animals from cruel exploitation.