What's Worse Than Shooting Fish in a Barrel? Hunting Lions the Same Way

Lions are approaching extinction in Africa, but hundreds are killed every year in controlled hunts.

Lions Are Approaching Extinction in Africa, But Hundreds Are Still Killed in Canned Hunts

(Photo: Alex Grimm/Reuters)

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.

Lions are big business. Wildlife parks where tourists can drive among the big cats and even pet a cub are a huge draw in South Africa. But many of these sites hide a dark secret: When the lion cubs there become too large to be in close contact with tourists, they are often sold for what are known as “canned hunts”—excursions in walled encampments where hunters easily shoot lions with guns or bows and arrows. 

The lion heads and other hunting trophies (paws, jaws, etc.) then travel home with the hunters, many of whom are American.

To both put a stop to this cowardly and unsporting practice and raise awareness about the plight of lions, South African organization Campaign Against Canned Hunting has organized the first Global March for Lions, which will take place March 15.

Overhunting by humans has wiped out much of lions’ prey—along with habitat loss, a major contributor to the dramatic decline in lion populations. The majestic species has vanished from more than 80 percent of its historic range and is extinct in 26 countries lions once called home. Only 20,000 remain in the wild, down from a global population of 200,000 in the 1950s.

As CACH director Chris Mercer says in a video about the global march: The “factory farming” of lions is “unspeakably cruel,” involving dreadful living conditions and deaths that usually involve multiple arrow wounds. About 8,000 lions are in captivity in South Africa right now, he says, all of which will be sent to the hunting industry. Officials at these kill farms can charge hunters from $9,000 for a female to as much as $35,000 for a male with a thick mane.

The international event will take several forms. Organizers have planned a rally in South Carolina. Actor and animal-rights advocate Tippi Hedren will speak at a large event in Los Angeles. The march in Washington, D.C., will end with a gathering in front of the South African Embassy. One event, a fund-raiser at Florida’s Big Cat Rescue in support of the pending Big Cat & Public Safety Protection Act—which would ban private ownership of lions, tigers, and other big cats—drew 530 registrants and has sold out.

Adding lions to the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which Mercer says is another goal of the event, would not prevent American hunters from traveling to Africa to hunt them. But it would block them from importing their trophies back to the states, which would pretty much wipe out the incentive for these status-obsessed wusses to engage in canned hunting. CACH is also working to raise awareness about canned hunting in the European Union, where 40 percent of lion hunters live.

You can find a full list of Global March for Lions events here. The discussion also continues online on Twitter at the hashtag #GlobalMarchForLions.

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