10 April 2007
The big black-maned lion saw the four hunters 100 metres away five seconds before the first bullet brought him down.
Wounded, with a roar, he charged his tormentors, regardless of a fusillade of bullets from the four. He must have lost consciousness as he bowled over the first hunter, for he didn’t attack, simply staggered to his feet and succumbed, as another six shots ripped into his body.
The terrified hunters were vastly relieved to see their prone colleague was shaken, not injured and exchanged joyful high-fives over the body of a once-proud king of the jungle.
This sickening yet gripping video of a commercial lion hunt in SA can be found under “lion hunts” on google. This advertisement for lion hunting goes under the caption: “deer hunting is for pussies; this is hunting at its most dangerous”.
The video explains why people will travel half way around the world and pay enormous sums for the pleasure of killing animals. It’s about the power from the barrel of a gun.
The hunter mounts the lion’s noble head in his study to impress his friends with his masculinity, courage and wealth. He hopes his “sport” associates him with macho men, such as Hemingway and President Teddy Roosevelt.
A comment on the website spoke for many: “What a pity one of the hunters was not taken out in the cross-fire…perhaps they don’t have apartheid to satisfy them any more.”
Prices for this pastime vary. One SA safari company charges $1 800-$2 500 a person a day for accommodation and, in addition, $21 000 for a lion, $10 000 for a buffalo, $5 500 for a hippo and $4 000 for a leopard. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) says trade in wild animals runs to billions of dollars annually. No-one has quantified hunting in SA but it is large.
Ethical hunters practice a “fair chase”, where they follow their prey on foot on large tracts of land, where it can elude them. In SA, no hunting farm is so big that a fence is not a factor. To that extent, all lion hunting here is canned. But even ethical hunters think it’s fair to put a wildebeest carcass out and wait in a hide for the big predators.
On a canned hunting farm, a geriatric millionaire can drive right up to a drugged lion and dispatch it from behind the safety of a fence.
Chris Mercer of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting took his crusade to Parliament recently, telling MPs that SA has 5 000 lions in captive breeding facilities. Many are waiting to be shot by brave fellows with high-powered rifles and/or (perhaps worse) crossbows.
Hunters contend that the money from hunting can be used for conservation. Mercer says most “conservationists” have been seduced by this argument and their money.
To say that hunting gives animals value, making them worth conserving is to say that the fewer animals we have, the higher their value, the better. The last elephant alive on the planet will no doubt be worth more than a Van Gogh. Is such rarity desirable?
Hunters argue that dozens of game farms owe their existence to hunting – but what sort of life is it for the nervous and easily-traumatised animals occupying these ranches with gunfire around them all day?
Canned hunters claim they breed their own quarry but Mercer says there is no value in removing animals from their natural environment and breeding them as living targets.
“Then you have a commercial farming operation. There is no point in boosting the numbers of these miserable prisoners.”
A number of hunting concessions are right next to Kruger and other animal sanctuaries. Animals are sometimes driven out of reserves into hunting areas.
Now, some parks, such as Pilanesberg, are opening areas for hunting. Some parks board types contend that instead of culling superfluous elephants, you could charge hunters $20 000 a head. The money would go into conserving species in shorter supply.
Mercer argues that the world did not compromise on ivory. In 1989 CITES simply banned it. In Kenya, stocks of ivory worth millions of dollars were burned in front of TV cameras. For a while the ban all but killed the ivory trade but slowly the market started asserting itself, just as it has with rhino and tiger body parts.
Japan received permission from CITES to buy 100 tons of ivory in 2002. Because elephant herds in SA, Namibia and Botswana are properly managed, they have permission to sell another 60-100 tons once CITES is satisfied that the clampdown on poaching elsewhere is effective. It seems that the floodgates will soon be open.
Hunters are trying to escape the most obvious fact: animal numbers are dwindling because of hunting. True, much of that hunting is practiced by indigenous people wanting meat and money for skins and trophies but that doesn’t absolve commercial hunters.
From the internet, I learned that the number of lions in southern Africa has dropped from 50 000 to 15 000 in a decade. The population of African elephants has dropped from 2m in 1970 to less than 300 000 at the time of the ivory ban. Rhinos and leopards are desperately rare, yet are still offered to shooters.
Kenya has banned all hunting for 30 years and enjoys the highest wild animal population and the most successful wildlife tourist industry in Africa. Botswana has just banned the trophy hunting of lions. A petition is circulating to get Pallo Jordan to outlaw canned hunting in SA.
Mercer says not much money from hunting goes to conservation. It goes mostly to the owners of the hunting ranches. Indeed, he thinks a lot of it stays offshore.
“You can imagine the owner of a game ranch not very happy with the new dispensation in SA. Why shouldn’t he keep most the dollars, euros and yen offshore? That is certainly what the Zimbabweans did for years. This industry needs very close inspection.”
Why is canned lion hunting morally worse than, say, beef or mutton breeding? The obvious answer is that beef and mutton are food. Much can be done to make meat production more humane but hunting terrified animals is hardly comparable.
SA already has an unfortunate moral reputation. The Wild West has moved south. Where else is there such an incidence of murder, rape, theft and corruption? Where else are there heists and bank robberies weekly? Where else does one find fraud on the scale of Fidentia? Where else do 30-40 people die on the roads every day?
Mercer makes the point that our tourism business will evaporate if we get a reputation as a rogue nation practicing institutionalised cruelty to animals.