Right now the greatest threat facing the lion is the stupidity of people. A thick fog of ignorance is wafting over the subject. Most of it is spewed and perpetuated by people who masquerade as friends of the lion, but who are only in it to serve their own, silly ideas. And, oh yes, to pick a gullible public's pocket for yet another "campaign," another "sanctuary."
Here are the nine most virulent and prevalent myths dominating the lion discourse world-wide at the moment:
"Africa without lions? Extinction a real possibility? I can scarcely believe what I'm writing. But the species is on the brink of destruction. Could this be the Lion's last roar?"
Who, may you ask, is Virginia McKenna. She is, or was, an actress, most famous for her role in "Born Free" which exhibited many of the elements detested or denied by today's animal justice warriors: hunting, culling, lion-petting and the successful release of a human-imprinted lioness into the wilderness. Relax, love, your alarm is misplaced. The lion population is stable at between 20,000 and 30,000 cats world-wide. One of the lions' great advantages is that they are a reliable source of income to national parks and local communities. As long as communities profit from the lion's presence, the feline's future is secure. In South Africa, because of the endeavours of the game ranch community, lion numbers are actually showing a healthy increase. The lion will continue to roar long after Virginia McKenna's final screech of alarm.
"Any captive animal has absolutely no conservation value whatsoever. And that is particularly true of the captive South African lion population which is so inbred and genetically tarnished…"
Paul Hart, in "Blood Lions."
The opinions of anybody positioned favourably in the sham documentary, "Blood Lions" must be viewed with a wink and a grin. Not that the hapless Paul Hart is featured as an "expert", but just a humble "predator sanctuary owner." (A "predator sanctuary" nowadays, you'll remember, is most often where animals are kept so that the owner can extract donations from a gullible public. You can donate to his sanctuary here: http://lionrescue.org.za/donate/.)
Well, Paul may be all heart, but in this instance he is all wrong as well. Long-term scientific studies and analyses of breeding practices by lion ranches accredited by the South African Predator Association, show that lion breeders go to extraordinary lengths to avoid inbreeding. Remember, most of these breeders have extensive cattle farming experience and the South African "beesboer" is almost fanatical in his determination to keep bloodlines healthy. Standard breeding practice is to regularly obtain animals of different bloodlines at auctions and to keep good studbooks and breeding records.
The genetics of the better lion ranch populations are much more pure than that of the typical wild lion pride. In the wild a dominant male will happily mate with his sister, mother or daughter. On a well-managed lion ranch, the big dude never gets the chance.
If genetic purity is your thing, ranch lions are the way to go.
"Using captive-bred lions as a… as a source for… for repopulating or supplementing a wild population is just… it's a bad idea…"
Dr. Guy Balme
Our Guy too speaks his piece on "Blood Lions" where he is at least punted as a "lion ecologist." Millions of people, most of them vibrating in blissful ignorance about anything regarding the lion, have been fed this "bad idea" line and have been repeating it with the stern conviction of the truly uninformed.
Dr Balme, from New York and employed by the Panthera animal charity (donate here: https://www.panthera.org/donate-video,) says he is "not aware of any captive lions that have… that have made it successfully in the wild…" He should get out more; maybe even rent a video of "Born free." Elsa the lioness made the transition from pet lion to wild lion mama pretty easily.
There are numerous cases where captive-bred lions have successfully made the transition to become wild lions. And they did it with little fuss and with little if any coaxing. Currently there are two studies of note, one on captive-bred lions in the wild in Zambia and another in the Zambezi River region.
Ask the lion breeders, the people who know the most about, you know, captive-bred lions, and they'll tell you it is a straightforward process to release the lions in wild country. These cats don't flinch, they don't cower; they go out and kill.
In a Free State game reserve a bunch of captive-breds were let off the leash, so to speak, into the wilderness which is teeming with other cats and antelopes. So how are they getting on?
"Only too well," a game warden reports. "We've been monitoring them closely, and they had no problems adapting. Up to this moment they have killed seven buffalo, giraffe, an impressive number of other game, warthogs… they actually chase the warthogs into their dens and dig them out. These guys are thriving!"
"Blood Lions" the video (donate here: http://www.bloodlions.org/get-involved/) positioned SAPA president Professor Pieter Potgieter as an obtuse fuddy-duddy when he said that the captive-bred lion community may become the saviour of the African lion species. Considering the ease with which captive-bred lions are introduced into the wild, the wily professor's prediction may very well come true.
"My concern about the ‘canned lion' industry is that it potentially can damage brand SA in such a bad way, why risk brand South Africa and its reputation and the livelihoods of one in seven South Africans for the benefit of a few individuals?"
Colin Bell, listed by "Blood Lions" (remember to donate here: http://www.bloodlions.org/get-involved/) as an "eco-tourism consultant, safari operator and author (buy his book here: http://africasfinest.co.za/buy-the-book/.)
Mr Bell has a serious face, all scraggly beard and deep lines, and he has a serious concern. South Africa, which has such a sunny reputation being the Rainbow Nation and all, has a huge and thriving tourism industry. But sombre clouds are drifting in. People are going to learn about "canned lions" and become so traumatized by the whole concept that they are going to change their travel plans for somewhere cheerier, like say, North Korea. South Africa will lose R95-billion and the people will starve.
This is like farting and then wrinkling your nose and complaining that the room stinks. The only reason that the ranch lion industry has any blemish on its reputation is because people like Mr Bell and the "Blood Lions" gang are unceasingly using misinformation, slander, downright lies, innuendo, false accusations, tarnishing by association, hysteria and deception to stain the captive-bred lion industry.
Sure there are despicable lion-breeding operations; every industry has its bad apples. The "Blood Lions" massive deception is to grade the entire industry on the lowest, vilest predator breeder's performance. Their preferred and stated narrative is that every breeder of every lion runs a breeding sweat shop churning out malformed lions in overpopulated hovels. This is egregious dishonesty and is to the eternal shame of everybody who peddles it. In reality, the lion-breeding and hunting facilities accredited by the South African Predator Association are world class operations. They stick to the best and latest scientific breeding practices.
Never dive into a murky pool and never try and unravel the motives of the animal welfare activists. Whatever drives them, the well-being of the African lion sucks wooden teat in their scheme of things. If the lion mattered to them at all, they would join SAPA in its accreditation drive which would railroad the unscrupulous breeder out of the industry. But no, oh no, they are more intent on assassinating the reputation of caring, dedicated breeders.
And then they complain about the damage their efforts are doing to the tourism industry. Best advice: Do not ask for whom the Bell tolls.
"Lions are highly sought after as trophies for sport hunters. Despite the well-documented decline in lion numbers, there is still a considerable demand for trophies... the effect of this commercial activity has greatly impacted both overall lion numbers and the ability for remaining lions to reproduce."
Lionaid.org (donate here: http://www.lionaid.org/donate.php)
Forget about serial killers, tyrants and terrorists. If animal welfare charities like lionaid is to be believed, the foulest, cruellest and certainly the most cowardly fiend ever to cast an obscene shadow on the fair face of Mother Earth is the trophy hunter. And the filthiest among the filthy, guilty not only of animal slaughter but indeed of regicide, is the taker of lion trophies. See, Africa was just about teeming with lions – 450,000 of them jostled for space on the continent as recently as 70 years ago. Then those bastard Macbeths struck and trophy hunters mowed down Simba and his mates so that now there are a paltry few lions skulking around in game reserves, peering nervously around trees, awaiting the trophy-hunting sociopath's next bullet.
This perception doesn't merely read like a bad fairy tale, but fairy tale it is. Logic, facts and figures – those awkward things so neglected by the folks at lionaid – prove that trophy hunting in reality has negligible impact on lion numbers. Ask the chaps who would know: The Bubye Valley Conservancy. They allow and carefully monitor lion trophy hunting and there take on it is, "… lion hunting actually does nothing to control lion population numbers, as only 3% of the population are hunted, and these are all old lone males (older than 6 years of age as per government and scientifically agreed criteria) that have already raised cubs, been kicked out of their prides, and no longer contribute to the gene pool. These lions generally end up getting killed by other lions, die of their wounds from fighting, or die of starvation either from wounds or lost canines impeding their ability to hunt effectively. "
That is in Zimbabwe; in South Africa the activists' fairy tale about trophy hunters leading the decline in lion numbers takes an even bigger pounding. The lion-breeding industry has led to an amazing increase in the size of the lion population. For every lion in the South African wilderness, there are three or four healthy, happy lions on game farms.
But are the animal justice warriors happy? No. And don't forget to donate.
(Note: Animal justice warriors use the terms "canned lion" and "captive-bred lion" or "ranch lions" interchangeably. Why? Who knows? But they do.)
"The lion farms' creation of a market for canned lion hunts puts a clear price-tag on the head of every wild lion. They create a financial incentive for local people, who collude with poachers or turn a blind eye to illegal lion kills. Trophy-hunters who begin with a captive-bred lion may then graduate to the real, wild thing."
Fiona Miles, director of Lion's Rock Big Cat Sanctuary (donate here: http://www.lionsrock.org/get-active/donations/)
The logic of activists isn't merely on the endangered species list, it is long time extinct. People spouting this type of gibberish in public shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects, power tools, car keys or large predators. Still, unpacking her argument is good for a chuckle, so why not?
See, people weren't really hunting wild lions. Then the captive-bred lion industry sprang into life. In market terms this industry would be in direct competition with the wild-lion trophy trade. Fiona contends, however, that the competition – which has enough stock to supply the entire demand – somehow created a market for the other guy's product.
Then, like a drunken guide, she stumbles down a completely irrelevant side track. Now she's prattling on about poachers, local communities and blind eyes.
Just think about what she is proposing (clearly she didn't): nobody really wanted to hunt wild lions until captive-bred trophy lions became available. The availability of captive-bred lions somehow made people want to hunt wild lions. So wild lions became valuable and are now getting poached. The poaching bit is even more confusing. Does Fiona really believe there is a market for poached lion trophies?
The only cogent part of her argument is that captive-bred trophy lion hunting is like some kind of gateway drug. Like marijuana use prods smokers towards heroin, captive-bred lion hunting creates the demand for something more hard core. Like wild lions. Her argument is more cogent, but equally wrong.
In South Africa the existence of captive-bred lions for trophies has just about wiped out demand for wild-lion trophies. Of the hundreds of lions taken as trophies in South Africa each year, fewer than ten are from registered wild areas like national parks.
People have been hunting wild lions for trophies for a very long time before the existence of ranch lions. Since then they've switched to lions on game farms. Captive-bred lions have removed wild lions from in front of the barrel. But rather than admitting that, some people will say just any old thing.
"There is no conservation value in captive bred lions."
Campaign against canned hunting (donate here: http://www.cannedlion.org/cub-petting.html.)
Errrr… ding! Wrong. Thank you for playing.
Oh, it has become an oft-muttered mantra, a line repeated so often one suspects the animal justice warriors are trying to convince themselves. It is quite understandable. If captive-bred lions do have "conservation value," the animal activists' entire crusade will stall. Their vehement actions would clearly be harming the lions. And those donations! They'll need a brand-new angle to get at all those delicious donations!
So they go on fingering their Lopsang Rampa beads while droning their refrain. They clearly believe themselves, but no one else should.
What would qualify as "conservation value?" Extending the habitat of lions? Break out the bouquets then. Many farmers have used money from captive-lion trophy hunting to turn dusty cattle farms into lush wilderness areas. Many other species have thrived on these farms with a number of them actually being subsidized by income deriving from ranch lions.
The ranch lion industry have satisfied the lion bone market and so made forays by poachers into our national parks unprofitable. Hunters have disregarded wild lions in favour of captive-bred trophies. That's good for the wild lion population and what is good for wild lions is good for conservation. What's this nonsense about ranch lions having no "conservation value?"
Lion ranchers have invested millions in research, release studies, genetic enhancement, lion censuses and bloodline management. Do animal welfare activists thank them or even acknowledge these contributions? No. They're too busy mumbling their mantra, "no conservation value, no conservation value."
If nothing else, the South African Predator Association's conservation fund is projected to contribute R9-million this year to conservation this year. Surely the animal justice warriors, being so focussed on money, even if it is mainly other people's hard-earned cash, should understand this. But… once again, apparently not. "… no conservation value, no conservation value."
Once more: "No conservation value." And with that, remember to make a donation to CACH.
"For example, PHASA and SAPA objected to the term "canned hunting" and were even successful in convincing Environment Minister Edna Molewa to abandon this prejorative (sic) term. Instead, captive bred lions offered for hunts then became known as "ranch lions" or other such misleading descriptions."
The Facebook page of lionaid (and of course you can donate here: http://www.lionaid.org/donate.php)
Oh these animal justice warriors, they're just the master of ethics aren't they, the absolute judge and final word on what constitutes good or bad ethics, and that is a ponderous responsibility for people who seem to not to even notice the frayed morals of their own publicity drives. Dishonest they are, make no mistake.
But like deft aikido masters they use an opponent's momentum to make him charge straight to defeat. And here is how their ring craft works: First of all define something as bad and get everybody to agree with it. Then lump your opponent's methods with these evil practices. Stand back and enjoy the referee's count.
To start with, their definition of "canned hunting:"
"Canned hunt is where the target animal is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter, either by physical constraints such as fencing, or by mental constraints such as being habituated by humans."
Chris Mercer of CACH quoted in "Blood Lions" (donate here: http://www.cannedlion.org/donate.html and here).
If that is how "canned hunting" is defined, you know what, NOBODY in his sane mind is in favour of it. Certainly the lion ranch owners who are accredited by SAPA are vehemently against these practices. This fact is important, because the way things are shaping up, soon captive-bred lion trophies will only be exported to the USA if the farm where it was bred and the ranch where it was hunted are endowed with SAPA accreditation. Getting this accreditation is tough. The specifications and regulations are many and they are stringent. And no farm which allows anything that smacks of "canned hunting" as described by Mercer will receive or retain accreditation.
How, then, does captive-bred hunting differ from "canned hunting?"
SAPA ranch lions are bred and raised in large camps with plenty of shelter. Conditions must adhere to international animal welfare standards for lions. Cubs may not be removed from their mothers before the age of three months. There is little or no contact between lion and human; certainly not enough for the human presence to be imprinted on the feline mind.
The grown lions are removed to game ranches which must also be SAPA accredited and released in hunting areas which have been approved by a panel of fastidious conservationists, breeders, animal behaviourists and hunters. There is no one size that has to fit all hunting areas in all regions. A thousand hectares on the Free State flats looks very different than a Bushveld hunting area of the same dimensions. In case of doubt, the benefit goes to the animal and the size of the hunting area is increased. Hunting a lion in an area this large, to use a particularly apt expression, is never going to be a walk in the park.
Is "canned hunting" practiced in South Africa today? Undoubtedly. And it is certainly a stain on the hunting profession. It is rightfully abhorred, but members of SAPA detest it more than anybody else.
SAPA members don't raise cubs to be petted or adult lions to be exhibited. They will never condone hunting drugged or tame lions. They don't use bait to lure animals to the barrel and their hunting clients will only bag a trophy after working for it according to the internationally accepted principles of fair chase.
Captive-bred lion hunting according to the specifications of SAPA is definitely not canned hunting. Insisting that the two approaches are identical requires block-headed stupidity, adherence to an illogical and carefully masked philosophy or a plain disregard for ethics in pursuance of a quick buck.
"These animals… they're pretty, like they were done up nice. They… they didn't have any bush history." American hunter and hidden-camera practitioner on ranch lions' sad lack of scars, speaking in "Blood Lions." (And yes, they're begging you to donate here).
Diminutive Ricky the staunch hunter is here bemoaning the fact that ranch lions do not get to earn their scars in the bush. Scars, apparently, are a good and noble thing and no self-respecting lion wants to be seen in public without a proper collection of these manly skin blemishes. The remarkable thing about scars, though, is that they appear only after the skin is torn and the blood gushes. To get them the macho lion must be bitten, scratched, hacked, hooked, grabbed, pierced or stabbed. But, hey – no pain, no bush history.
Swayze's hankering for lions to be mauled stems from a common illusion held by animal justice warriors. They revel in the idea that lions in the wild, compared to ranch lions, live lives of limitless freedom, happiness and family harmony and are unburdened by cares or stress. The gambolling cub, the adventurous youngster, the proud adult, the mighty leader, the contented old codger – these are the images of wild lions cosseted by the animal welfare activist.
The reality is far different, of course. A wild lion is born into a severe competition which will last its entire life. Right after its first breath it has to fight for survival and the struggle only ends when it loses. It has competition from siblings and then other cubs. For most of its life it has to skulk around aggressive adults. It has many lethal enemies in other predator species and scavengers. A snake can maim or kill it. For a lion there is no shelter against rain or hail and no defence against disease and injury. If it is too weak or too slow to hunt, it starves. To eat it needs to kill, but in the killing it has to survive the defences of brutal animals like buffalo. Life in a pride sets a lion perpetually on edge in an intricate life-or-death game of alliances and treachery.
Lions belong in the wild. It's their proper place. But never think it is an easy, idyllic life.
And don't bemoan the life of properly maintained ranch lions. In lion terms they are living the good life. Even if they don't have the scars to show for it.