the basics

Let’s first have a look at what all of this means.

Canned hunting is the hunting of captive-bred animals in small enclosures, which makes it easier for hunters to track the animals, and the smaller areas make it more difficult for the animals to get away. It’s not considered a “fair chase” and is mainly associated with the trophy hunting of lions in Africa. 

Trophy hunting is the hunting of animals for certain parts of the animal that are considered “trophies” – with lions, this generally means their heads, paws, hide, and claws. Trophy hunting tends to be more popular with foreign nationals and is considered to be a sport.

Lastly, the bone trade is the export of the bones of wild animals, generally for cultural belief of their medicinal use – although there is no evidence to support this, practices rooted in cultural beliefs are difficult to maneuver.

the young cub

A lion cub starts to find its independence at around 1.5 years old – during this period of bonding with its mother and the rest of the pride in the wild, lionesses will have their cubs at relatively the same time, and the cubs will form a crèche group. 

These groups allow the little “Simba’s of the Savanna” to play all day, learning vital social- and survival skills they will need to hunt and integrate into the pride. Estimations vary, but there are approximately 3,000 wild lions in the 19,623 km² Kruger National Park. That’s just short of 6,600 km² per lion, in theory – a lovely amount of land and space for these roaming cats.

the role of petting zoos

Many petting zoos are guilty of misleading foreign nationals by implying – and sometimes flat out saying – that they’re rescuing orphaned cubs. Although this is the case for many sanctuaries, most petting zoos are not contributing to this selfless cat rehabilitation. 

In order to interact with people, the cubs must be habituated from an extremely young age, separated from their mothers and hand-reared. Other than the traumatic and unnatural aspects of this practice, it also means that they are not accustomed to natural pride dynamics, playing with the rest of the pride’s cubs and learning how to interact and survive within the pride.  

Instead, these cubs are subjected to an entire day of interacting with humans, disrupted from sleep which is crucial to the developing cub – these babies can spend over three quarters of the day sleeping, waking to eat and playing a short while before going back to sleep. 

Animals raised in such settings are unable to be reintroduced into the wild as they lack the social skills to integrate into a pride – they have not been taught how to hunt by their mothers, and will likely not survive the dangers of a wilderness they do not understand.

At nine months, the cubs become too large to play with anymore, and at this point the future of many of these cubs takes a devastating twist. 

Life now becomes one lived out in a 100mx100m camp, if they’re females or a few lucky males. Male lions are generally grown out to be trophy animals for canned hunting, where they are relocated to a larger camp where hunters, most of which are often internationally based, will shoot them for their trophies. 

Unfortunately, this is only one of the cruel fates that can befall these cubs.

the role of the bone trade

The lion bone trade industry boomed when the first export permit was issued by CITES in 2008, a mistake which grew into a cruel and cutthroat industry, driven by greed with no consideration for welfare, health and conservation. It became legalized to mitigate the concerns of poaching, severe welfare implications, illegal exports, and laundering linked to wildlife traffickers and poaching syndicates.  

Most lion bone leaving South Africa is linked directly to illegal wildlife trafficking, and ends up in the illegal trade in Asiatic markets – the same place our poached rhino horn and pangolin scales end up.

Until the legal lion bone trade was banned, there were many lions being grown out for the bone trade. An adult lion needs between 5kg and 7 kg of meat a day to maintain weight – that’s 2.5 tons a year, which equates to around R90,000. 

Even using venison as a cheaper substitute costs a whopping R62,500 annually. Due to these exorbitant costs, reports of extremely emaciated “living carcasses” have been recorded.

The bone trade as an industry accounts for almost all the lion bone that makes its way illegally out of South Africa. It’s estimated that there are approximately 12,000 South African lions in captivity, many being homed in cramped lion interaction- and petting facilities, hunting- and breeding farms. 

Some of these lucky cats will only be captive temporarily in much-needed sanctuaries while they are rehabilitated for reintroduction into the wilderness.

the why behind the what

Lion bone is mainly used in Asiatic countries for its culturally-based belief of medicinal values. The tiger population has rapidly declined and has since been highly protected, turning the spotlight onto African lions. 

The bone is mostly ground down into a powder and used to make tonics, but also has a use in ornamental carvings.

the silver lining

There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel. In May 2021, Barbra Creecy (the Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs of the Republic of South Africa) decided to shut down the captive lion industry. 

This stopped the legal export of lion bone, and marked the end of the legal lion bone trade industry – a heroic legislation.

now what?

As with any trade having its roots in illegal soil, there is still much work to be done. To date, 12,000 captive lions remain. The petting zoos are where this cycle begins, perpetuating the breeding of captive lions that can never be introduced into the wilderness.

It can, however, end with you – if you’re wanting to know more about the information contained within this blog, take a look at some of the resources below. 

But just to be safe, play by the general rule of thumb: If you’re allowed to touch, their futures can’t be much!

read further:

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