A South African court ruled that the hunting of captive-bred lions shortly after their release into the wild should be allowed to resume.
The Bloemfontein-based Supreme Court of Appeal this week struck down a law hindering the practice, known as “canned hunting” by its critics, after an appeal by the South African Predator Breeders Association. The law stipulated that lions had to roam free for two years after their release, making the industry unviable.
“This ruling puts canned hunting right back on the agenda and further entrenches South Africa’s image of a country that puts animal welfare last while profiteering from an abhorrent form of hunting practice,” the International Fund for Animal Welfare said in an e-mail from its Cape Town office yesterday.
The breeders association has warned that the law would shut an industry that employs 5,000 people because farmers can’t afford to keep lions on their estates for long periods of time due to the cost of the antelopes they eat. It warned that the captive lions, which number as many as 5,000, may need to be euthanized as the legislation reduced their commercial value.
“The most damage was caused by the uncertainty,” Carel Van Heerden, the chairman of the association said in an interview from Vryburg. “From a marketing perspective it has hit hunters very badly.”
The association will seek a meeting with the environment department to come to an agreement on how to conduct the industry, he said. Albi Modise, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said he was in Mexico and couldn’t respond, referring questions to Roopa Singh, a spokeswoman who wasn’t immediately available.
Marthinus van Schalkwyk was environment minister at the time the law was altered.
“No doubt the minister was entitled to take account of the strong opposition and even revulsion expressed by a substantial body of public opinion to the hunting of captive bred lions,” Judge Jonathan A. Heher said in the ruling, posted on the website of the association. “But in providing an alternative he was bound to rely on a rational basis. The evidence proves he did not do so.”
The practice allows ranch owners to breed or acquire lions before having them hunted for a fee on their property.
Most lion hunting is done by foreign tourists, who on average pay about $22,000 to shoot one of the cats. A further $18,000 is generated in the form of safari costs and the price of having a lion stuffed for shipment back to the hunter’s home, according to court documents.
Lions for Sale
Lions bred for hunting are often shot after just a few days in the wild. In captivity they are mostly fed on donkey meat bought from rural communities. After their release from breeding cages they catch and eat game that the farmers have acquired for their estates. An adult male lion can eat about six metric tons of meat during a two-year period.
More than 300 lions are hunted in South Africa every year, with trophy hunters coming from countries including the U.S., Russia and Spain. That makes South Africa the second-biggest destination for lion hunting after Tanzania, where wild lions are shot. About 1,000 lions are hunted each year in Africa.
The association displays lions for sale on its website with the vendor Roux’tjie Roux saying from South Africa’s Free State province that he sells lions for between 2,000 rand ($145) and 10,000 rand apiece to game ranches.
Roux, 64, has been breeding lions for 16 years and says lion farming is better for the conservation of wildlife than shooting wild cats. The hunting industry has made the breeding of the animals economically viable, he said.
The ruling came more than a decade after a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary showed a lioness being shot in a small enclosure in South Africa in front of her cubs, leading to international criticism.
The case is SA Predators Association, M C Mostert and D Cilliers vs Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, 72/10 in the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, Bloemfontein.
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