The most extreme version of trophy hunting is “Canned Hunting”. The animals which are born in captivity are taken away from their mothers within hours of being born so they can be used in petting zoos. When they become of age, they then spend the rest of their life in caged compounds waiting to be released into a larger compound for the so
called ‘canned’ hunt.
This barbaric practice guarantees a kill as the habituated lion has nowhere to go inside the ‘can’ or enclosure where it is shot with a bow and arrow or a rifle. The animals can’t escape from these cages. Occasionally, they are attracted to the bait but they are sometimes even sedated with medicine.
Anyone can go and hunt lions in South Africa – a hunting licence or proven hunting experience isn’t necessary. This means that many lions aren’t killed by the first shot which results in them experiencing an agonising death; this is often the case when hunters choose to kill the lion using a bow and arrow.
For trophy hunting in South Africa, lions are bred in around 200 farms usually raised by hand and accustomed to humans. Today, around 7000 captive animals are threatened with the same gruesome fate – more than ever before. South Africa has an estimated wild lion population of approximately 2000 lions.
Unwitting tourists visit these farms and pay money to look at or ‘pet’ young lion cubs. They are unaware that they are inadvertently supporting a horrific industry, an industry that even many hunting associations reject as being unethical, is something that most of the tourists never get to know. The farms often advertise themselves as wildlife sanctuaries and have volunteering opportunities to lure in foreign volunteers under the pretence of helping save the species.
When the lions reach the trophy age of four to seven years they are then deemed ready to be sold as a trophy in a canned hunt. In many cases, the ‘hunting’ isn’t carried out on the same farm that the animal was bred at. Instead, the lions are transported to other areas and shot there. Most of the breeding and hunting stations in South Africa are located in the provinces Free State, North West and the Limpopo.
A male lion - with its magnificent mane - can cost as much as £35,000, while animals with particularly dark, thick manes go for £65,000 and sometimes more. On some farms, even the cubs are offered for shooting.
To create the ultimate lion trophy, farmers have to maintain a diverse gene pool when breeding. Due to whistle-blowers in both South Africa and Botswana we now know that wild lions are being smuggled and sold to these farms to ensure this genetic diversity is reached.
Complete hunting packages, which include the “support” of professional hunters as well as room and board, are offered on the internet, at hunting trade fairs or in specialist travel agencies. The transport costs and expenses for the animal preparer are also paid.
It's not only lions that fall victim to the trigger happy hunting tourists. In order to offer hunters special trophies, some farms even breed and offer tigers for hunting even though the animal isn’t indigenous to South Africa. Leopards and cheetahs are also common big cat species on these farms.
Canned Hunting isn’t all about big cats or Africa. It is still big business in the US. African antelopes and lions are bred and hunted in Texas, wild red foxes are caught, released and chased down by dogs in Virginia, and elk in Colorado are born, raised and shot in a pen. Sadly, there are more than a thousand captive hunts in at least 28 states in the US. 11 are located in Texas and 1 is in Florida. The animal most commonly hunted at these ranches is the barasingha - or "swamp deer" - native to India and Nepal. Other targeted endangered or threatened species include Eld's bow-antlered deer, red lechwe, Arabian oryx and several species of antelope. The going rate for a canned hunt varies; one ranch website we found advertises a guaranteed kill of a barasingha for $4,000.
Canned Hunting is a truly vile, so called sport that offends animal lovers and hunters alike. The false claims of conserving the species are a thin veneer designed to present, at least to the casual observer, an element of benefit from this hideous activity. Save Me Trust completely reject the claims of the ranches and hunting groups that breeding animals in captivity, making them dependent before ultimately betraying them for cash could ever be considered as conservation.
Nothing less than a complete ban would be acceptable to anyone with compassion for animals. It’s time to can canned hunting.