We’re sure you have all heard about the horrid “sport” in South Africa known to some as “canned” lion hunting – but to most as straight up murder – but just in case you’ve forgotten, here is a quick overview of the gory details before we get to the skeletons. Trophy hunting is big business in Africa and wealthy patrons (like the new first boys Eric and Donald Trump Jr.) will pay up to $70,000 to feel like “men” and kill innocent animals. But even trophy hunters have to cringe a bit when it comes to canned lion hunting and here’s why – canned lions are bred to trust humans. Further, in a canned hunting venue, the hunter is essentially designated to an enclosure where the animal has no chance of escape. Essentially, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel – except with one of the world’s fiercest, but most endangered species.

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Lions were put on the endangered species list in 2015 because their wild population has dwindled from 200,000 to just 20,000 over the course of the last century. So while lion breeding programs may be needed to revitalize the wild populations, in South Africa, they are breeding lions for a different purpose – hunting and tourism.

There are an estimated 200 lion breeding farms in South Africa that are responsible for the trade of 6,000-8,000 captive big cats. The lion cubs are sold into the exotic pet industry or used as selfie props in petting zoos. So these animals have grow up around people – they are used to being pet by humans, not fear them.  But, upon reaching maturity, these cubs are no longer “cute” enough to be of value at the petting zoo and so, their lives are sold to the highest bidder – someone with a gun who wants to take a picture with a dead animal. While some of these lion farms attempt to hide as legitimate “conservations” facilities, it has been well documented that no legitimate ecologist would introduce these farm-lions into the wild because they have been so interbred, it would be a genetic disaster.

In a macabre twist to this grizzly story, South Africa has announced their intention to export 800 lion skeletons to Vietnam and Laos where they are used in traditional eastern medicine. According to Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, “As part of a compromise at

According to Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, “As part of a compromise at the fall 2016 CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species) meeting, South Africa’s lions were maintained on Appendix II of the Treaty, allowing for commercial international trade. However, a full ban on wild lion bone exports was approved. Because South Africa has the largest captive lion (hunting) industry, they were mandated to institute a quota for the first time, which will allow some monitoring of levels of trade and impact on wild populations (if more bones end up arriving in Asia than are included in the approved quota we will know there is an illegal trade problem).”

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Experts estimate that this quota will effectively be a reduction of 400 lion skeletons exported this year. However, a reduction of lions skeletons does not come close to addressing the root issue – breeding lions for slaughter.

The international wildlife charity, Born Free, has been championing the campaign this barbarous saga and had this to say about the South African Government’s new quota: “Born Free and many conservation organisations believe that the trade will further stimulate demand in Asia for lion bones and perpetuate the demand for tiger bone tonics which often contain lion bone. This will, in turn, put already beleaguered wild tigers, as well as lions, at greater risk from poachers seeking a quick profit by laundering bones from wild lions and other big cats into the trade. South Africa’s commercial lion breeding industry is unspeakably cynical and cruel, poses a threat to wild lions and other big cats, and needs to be shut down.” 

The problem is that lion hunting is legal in South Africa and by creating space in the legal world for this cruel industry means that it will continue to thrive and prosper. Despite significant pressure from conservation organizations around the globe, the South African government does not appear to be making any policy changes in the near future. However, the reduction of skeletons to be exported could be an indications that South Africa is going to start moving away from the slaughter and sale of lions. If you would like to fight for the illegalization of lion hunting, you can donate to Born Wild on their website. Sign the petition below to add your voice to many others!

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Image source: Maggy Meyer/Shutterstock

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