Hunting Lions Bred in Captivity May Soon Cost More Than $35,000

Hunting Lions Bred in Captivity May Soon Cost More Than $35,000

 

By Antony Sguazzin

 

 Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) — Leigh Fletcher gazes down a line of fenced, dirt enclosures where she rears 200 lions for American and Russian hunters willing to pay $35,000 to shoot them.

 

“You are just supplying demand,” says Fletcher, 31, as a black-maned lion tears apart a donkey carcass. “It’s no different from a cattle-feeding and slaughtering lot.”

 

South African breeding operations like Fletcher’s provided more than 300 lions for trophy hunters to stalk and kill last year, and are part of an industry that brought 1 billion rand ($146 million) into the economy. The farms have also sparked outrage from animal rights groups who say they permit “canned hunting,” where marksmen kill lions in small enclosures with no chance to escape.

 

Starting Feb. 1, South Africa will require that lions roam free for two years before they are hunted. Breeders say the rules will destroy the industry and force them to slaughter many of the 5,000 captive-bred cats. Game farms can’t afford to have the lions hunting their other animals for such a long period, and there isn’t enough room for them in the wild.

 

“The moment we can’t hunt them they’ll have no value,” says Wouter Pienaar, owner of Bloemfontein-based Shot Productions Ltd., which films hunts for tourists. The farmers “are just going to start killing them.”

 

Advocates of the new law say it will let lions adapt to the wild before they are killed, allowing for a fair chase.

 

“We are putting an end, once and for all, to the reprehensible practice of canned hunting,” Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa‘s environment minister, said in a February statement. “We will not allow our achievements to be undermined by unethical and rogue practices.”

 

Thatch-Roofed Chalets

 

The lion-breeding industry, pioneered by Fletcher’s father in the 1980s, offers a modern version of what big game hunters experienced in the early 20th century.

 

Fletcher’s Sandhurst Safaris covers 270,000 acres near the Botswana border, an hour’s drive from the closest tarred road, where visitors can hunt more than 30 types of animals.

 

Behind gates flanked by giant stone lions sit thatch-roofed chalets and a kitchen that caters to the dietary needs of guests, from low-fat for dieters to halal meals for Muslims.

 

In the game room, a hippo head hangs over the pool table, while a stuffed lion stands over a lioness and her gamboling cubs in the dining room. When a customer recently requested Zulu dancers, Fletcher arranged for a troupe to drive seven hours to entertain her guests at the lodge.

 

`King of the Bush’

 

Hunters pay to shoot captive-bred cats because of a scarcity of wild lions. About 2,700 free-roaming lions are left in South Africa, says Dewald Keet, chief state veterinarian for Kruger National Park, the country’s biggest wildlife area. Outside of national parks, there are only enough for hunters to be able to shoot 10 to 15 a year.

 

While hunters also covet the African buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant, the lion is still “the king of the bush,” says Apie Reyneke, 51, owner of AA Serapa Safaris, a hunting lodge in North West Province. “Everyone wants to shoot a lion.”

 

Visitors at Serapa pay $700 each day to stay at the lodge and hunt the most dangerous species, on top of fees for each animal killed. A French couple spent $70,000 in one week this year, says Reyneke, a former South African off-road driving champion.

 

“There’s no place in the world that has the quality of lion we have in South Africa,” Reyneke says, while sitting on a leather couch draped with a leopard pelt, his feet resting on a lion skin.

 

Tracking Lions

 

Mounted warthog heads and towel rails made from antelope horns flank the walls of the guestrooms. Outside, ostriches surround a waterhole. Reyneke’s young son, Adolph, plays with a Jack Russell terrier named Lion.

 

Serapa boasts 46,000 acres of savannah and a Cessna 210 aircraft to ferry clients from Johannesburg.

 

During a typical hunt, the customer is driven through the grounds in a Land Rover, accompanied by trackers and two professional hunters. A photographer or cameraman hired by the client may also join them. The team searches for lion tracks and then follows the cat’s spoor through the bush on foot.

 

If the client shoots and misses, one of the professional hunters must kill the lion, which can weigh more than 400 pounds, before it attacks the group. Reyneke says he had to shoot a cat just 20 meters (66 feet) from a customer this year.

 

A third of the 1,000 cats hunted annually are shot in South Africa, making it the second-biggest lion-hunting destination after Tanzania.

 

`Bang for Your Buck’

 

The quality of lions has deteriorated elsewhere because hunters prefer killing large males with black manes, leaving inferior cats to perpetuate the species, Reyneke says.

 

South Africa continues to be the best bang for your buck,” says Gibson Lewis, the former speaker of the Texas legislature, who recently hunted at Reyneke’s farm. “The cat I just got was a lot better, bigger and older” than those he’s shot elsewhere.

 

Lack of regulation has led to abuses that sullied the industry’s reputation, says Rodney Kretzschmar, owner of Trans African Taxidermists near Johannesburg, where he stuffs as many as 30 lions a year for as much as $5,000 each.

 

“It has been a free-for-all,” Kretzschmar says. “I was one of the first people who mentioned we were in for trouble.”

 

The South African Predator Breeders Association has filed a lawsuit to block the new rules, saying they are so strict they threaten the livelihood of farmers who have invested in land and lion pens. If that happens, many of the 6,000 people employed in the industry will lose their jobs, the breeders say.

 

BBC Program

 

The association is willing to compromise, proposing that lions be allowed to roam free for a month before they are hunted and that hand-rearing of cubs be banned to prevent cats from becoming too docile around people. Farms should also be a minimum of 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) to give lions room to roam, the group says. The government hasn’t given any guidelines on acreage.

 

The proposals come 10 years after a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary showed a lioness being shot in a small enclosure in front of her cubs, leading to international criticism.

 

“The industry should never have been allowed to develop,” says Christina Pretorius, a Cape Town-based spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

 

`Born Free’

 

Will Travers, director of the Sussex, England-based Born Free Foundation, says the government should create a fund to compensate farmers for the lions’ care.

 

“The wider international community would be incensed” if breeders slaughter their lions, says Travers, whose group is named after the 1966 film “Born Free,” which starred his parents and told the story of a lion called Elsa that was returned to the wild. “The government should decide how to bring the industry to an end in as humane a way as possible.”

 

For now, lion breeders like Fletcher await the outcome of the court case, the first hearing for which is scheduled for this month.

 

“Every animal is destined to die and it doesn’t have a bad life here,” she says. “They’d rather be here than in a zoo cage with a concrete floor eating chicken. I hope we can come to a compromise.”

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg asguazzin@bloomberg.net

 

Last Updated: November 6, 2007 19:07 EST

 

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=asYPMpYDrS90&refer=home

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