Canned hunting: South Africa’s shame

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UPDATED 19.9.06

The hunting of captive animals in a confined area is known as canned hunting. It is widespread in South Africa and North America. Since January 2005 the South African government has been in the process of updating the legislation for the hunting industry. The final draft regulations were available in June and the public invited to submit comments by the 19th June 2006.

See: protected/protected_regs.html#

The Born Free Foundation welcomes new legislation to regulate the hunting industry in South Africa and stamp out the existence of canned hunts. However, we do have some serious concerns about the draft regulations which appear not only to leave many loopholes open but also provide a means for the registration of captive breeding operations for listed large predators, which would be able to supply and facilitate the canned hunt industry (see later in this document).


Canned hunting operations refer to the hunting of captive animals that are trapped within enclosures and have little chance of escape. Some canned hunt operations have recently begun to allow their clients to hunt these trapped animals remotely via the internet. The animals involved are often habituated to human contact, having been hand-raised and bottle fed, so are no longer naturally fearful of people. In many situations the animals will approach people expecting to get fed but instead receive a bullet. This makes it easier for clients to be guaranteed a trophy and thus the industry is lucrative and has expanded over time. The industry thrives in both North America and South Africa, although South Africa holds the unfortunate title of providing the most lion and elephant trophies from canned hunts.


Two television programs have been especially effective in the past at drawing the world’s attention to the excesses and cruelty involved in canned hunting in South Africa: the Cook Report shown on British television on 6th May 1997, and then its screening on the popular South African program, Carte Blanche.

The ’97 Cook Report footage was horrific. We see a lioness pacing alongside a fence, frantic to get to the three cubs she had been separated from that morning. The professional hunter arrives with his client, a German tourist. We see a bullet slam into her side and her body twists in the air alongside the fence. She has made no attempt to run away – and why should she? Her cubs are on the other side of the fence and why she should fear humans, they had been feeding her up until two days ago. We learnt that hunters are advised how to lame a lion by shooting it in the shoulder so no damage is done to the head, the “trophy”. One procurer of lions explains that breaking a lion’s limbs makes the killing of the maimed animal “easier on the dogs, easier on us.” With sickening disregard for the animals the man goes on to say that lions are easy to maim, they are “soft-skinned, with a highly developed nervous system… hurts them…. ‘Smoke him and he’ll bounce around.”

The Cook Report researchers were even offered Bengal tigers and jaguars, big cats not indigenous to South Africa.

International outrage followed the screening of this program, and the Born Free Foundation launched it’s “Ban the Can” campaign. Animal rights groups and sickened members of the public and the media have continued to highlight what goes on to provide the hunter with his trophy, but the animals keep on dying. For example, in 1997 there were 300 lions held in South African captive breeding facilities – the number has now grown to over 3000.


It is not just the brutal death of the captive-bred animals that outrages its opponents, but the whole process involved.

In the case of lions, the breeders usually remove the cubs when they are three-four days old. This is extremely stressful for the lioness, with her deeply ingrained maternal instincts but it does induce her into another estrus cycle making her more receptive to mating. In addition, hand-rearing the cubs make future management easier and ensure the trophy hunters don’t have to face a wild animal when it’s time for the kill. There may also be a sex culling process at this stage – hunters like to kill male lions – their manes look more impressive in that final photo of the hunter standing beside the body, so most of the females may be killed.

Adult male selection in complex species such as lions can have far-reaching impacts on pride dynamics. If the dominant male of a pride is killed, this leaves the way open for pride take-over by male outsiders, who will usually kill the cubs of the previous dominant male, to bring the lionesses into season again. This means that he will sire his own cubs, rather than bringing up the cubs of another male. Ultimately, the death of just one “trophy” results in a ripple effect causing the deaths of many more lions.


“If it pays it stays” – the mantra of many conservationists and certainly the excuse used by hunters around the world. With habitats shrinking and agriculture and industry taking over the wild areas, humans insist that the remaining wild animals must pay their way if we humans are to grant them permission to remain on the planet.

Conservation gun-smoke screen – Captive lion breeders call themselves conservationists and some allow day visitors who are blatantly misinformed that the lions are being bred for re-introduction to the wild. Not only is this an unrecognized management policy for lion conservation, the reverse is happening – breeders have to take lions from the wild to add fresh blood to their in-bred captive populations. This adds an additional burden on the wild population which recent reports estimate has crashed to around 15,000 – 23,000 lions. It is well known that the large provincial reserves of Pilansberg and Madikwe in the North West Province and Phinda Privace Reserve in KwaZulu-Ntal are the primary source of wild lions for re-introduction purposes, not the breeding farms.

Also the costs of lion-breeding make these conservation claims a nonsense. It takes large amounts of meat to feed all these lions. Africa Geographic has investigated the Mokwalo breeding farm in the Province of Limpopo. The farm had 110 animals behind wire and they eat approx. 144 tones of food a year. The meat costs about 40p / kilo which give an annual food bill of about £57,000. So, with each lion costing the farmer about £500 per year to feed, and he is only selling about 20 a year, it is hard to imagine he would settle for the price these lions fetch at auction for conservation projects – on average £1,000.

Hunters from America, Germany, Spain, the UK and other European countries pay big money for the thrill of shooting a normal colored lion – about £3,500.

Wish lists – Of course, hunters prefer the more striking male animals in their photographs or as stuffed trophies. They also prefer unusual colors. A black-manned lion can fetch around £17,000. In January 1994 the UK’s Sunday Express reported on how a black-manned lion at a lion auction was sold to a secret telephone bidder for £22,000. The owner later said that a European or American hunter will pay double that to shoot the lion as part of a hunting package. Up to $200,000 has been known to change hands for the opportunity to shoot a white lion at close range and take home its pale skin.

As ever, there is an argument regarding the possible loss of jobs and income if canned hunting is made illegal. However, most of the big hunting outfits are land owners and so have other options, such as eco-tourism, even if it is less lucrative in the short-term. And do we say the burglar can continue his trade because stopping it would reduce his income? Canned hunting is morally bankrupt and must be banned.


In the USA, the legislation is on a state by state basis and although it is banned in some form in some states, canned hunting operations are sprouting up from Maine to Arkansas and Indiana to Texas.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are more than 1,000 canned hunt operations in at least 25 different states. They are most common in Texas, but they are found throughout the continental United States and Hawaii. Safari Club International (SCI) has done its part to promote canned hunting by creating a hunting achievement award, “Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America,” which may support the operation of canned hunts.

In South Africa, the latest draft regulations will allow captive breeding and canned hunting of large predators.

Born Free is a representative of The Species Survival Network (SSN)-an international coalition of more than 75 conservation and animal protection organizations. In June 2006 we submitted comments to the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism regarding the proposed regulations on the hunting industry and threatened and protected species (including captive breeding and canned hunting of large predators) through SSN.

The draft regulations on threatened and protected species will allow the captive breeding and canned hunting of large predators to continue. Mr. Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, stated on 2 May 2006 that the intention of the regulations was to stop “immoral activities like canned hunting” and to stop the “captive breeding of listed species for any purposes except science and conservation”. However, the draft regulations allow large predators to be funneled from captive-breeding operations, rehabilitation facilities and even sanctuaries into ‘extensive wildlife systems’ where they can be ‘rehabilitated’ and hunted two years later. Furthermore, hunting will be allowed to take place on ‘extensive wildlife systems’ where the animals are confined within fenced areas of any size. In addition, the canned hunting and captive breeding aspects apply only to six species of ‘listed large predators’ and not to all species.

The draft regulations on the hunting industry also require revision as they allow hunting in protected areas, as well as on private land adjacent to protected areas, and do not firmly establish control of the hunting industry at the national level.

“We appreciate that the government of South Africa has requested comments from the public on these important regulations,” said Will Travers, Born Free’s CEO and Chairman of the SSN. “We certainly hope that the government addresses the serious inadequacies of these proposed regulations.”


Please write respectfully to:

The Chief Director: Biodiversity and Heritage
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Private Bag X447

For Attention: Dr Pieter Botha

You may wish to say you welcome the actions of the South African government in taking steps to ban canned hunting but that you feel captive-bred or captive-reared predators should NEVER be hunted.

Further comments by the Born Free Foundation on the legislation in question will shortly be posted on this web site.

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