New U.S. Protections Could Crush ‘Canned’ Lion Hunting

New data obtained by the Humane Society shows that nearly nine out of 10 lions hunted in the controversial practice are killed at the hands of Americans.
(Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty Images)
Jan 3, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The practice of so-called canned hunts, where hunters pay upwards of $20,000 to target African lions in huge, fenced-in areas, could be doomed thanks to the U.S. government’s move in December to protect the animals under the Endangered Species Act.

That’s because Americans make up a huge majority of the clientele participating in canned hunts—where lions are essentially bred for the purpose of hunting—according to the Humane Society of the United States.

In new data obtained from the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species database, the Humane Society found that 719 African lions were imported to the U.S. in 2014, 620 of which came from South Africa—the epicenter of captive lion hunts.

In total, 429 lions were killed in South Africa’s canned hunts in 2014, and 363 of those lions were hunted by Americans—about 85 percent.

(Courtesy Humane Society)

Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said the numbers give a good indication of the U.S.’ role in canned lion hunts—a practice now effectively prohibited by the new classification of lions in Central and West Africa as endangered species and lions in southern and East Africa designated as threatened.

“The federal action to place African lions on the list of threatened and endangered species could and should cripple the canned lion hunting industry in South Africa, given that Americans account for nearly nine of every 10 kills at these despicable, deplorable facilities,” Pacelle said in a statement.

It’s estimated that African lion populations have fallen from 200,000 a century ago to around 20,000 today—a number that could be halved over the next two decades thanks to habitat destruction, poaching, and other threats.

There are about 6,000 captive lions held in 200 facilities across South Africa, which charge anywhere from $7,000 to $50,000 for hunts. The practice came into the spotlight this year with the release of the feature documentary Blood Lions, which further fueled outrage in the U.S. following the death of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the Lion, who was lured out of a national park and shot by an American dentist in July.

Under the new U.S. restrictions, the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa said the country’s revenue from captive lion hunts would be cut in half. Despite the economic impact of the new rules, the hunting group has voiced support of the U.S. government’s decision and distanced itself from captive-bred lion hunting.