(Ep. 2/4) It's in the Can — Everything you need to know about Canned Hunting with the 'Lion Whisper'

You've probably heard of trophy hunting, but ever heard of canned hunting? Hundreds of lions are bred specifically to be killed in South Africa each year, with hunters paying up to $50,000 per lion hunting safari. Hunting activities, including these canned hunts, adds a whopping $341 million to the South African economy and supports >17, 000 jobs. But in 2018, as a result of international outcry to help protect lions, the South African government reduced its yearly limit for exporting lion skeletons from 1,500 down to its previous quota of 800. But what's the real story behind this lucrative business? What's the ethical cost of this enterprise and are we really making any real progress in solving the issues involved? In Episode 2 of our interview with Kevin Richardson AKA the 'Lion Whisperer', we delve into the realities of both canned and trophy hunting and uncover how you can help save lions!

Josh: "Okay so now let’s get to an issue which I know is close to your heart and it’s something that we both really agree on and something we’re both quite passionate about as well — can you just tell the listeners what canned hunting is? "

Kevin: "Yeah look, canned hunting is very simple and not everyone agrees with my definition. But I don’t really care, because I’ve been looking at it from every angle for many years. If an animal, be it a lion or any animal for that matter, is constrained either psychologically or physically, and it is then hunted, I believe that that is a canned hunt. Let me elaborate. Even if a lion is in the wild, and somebody baits it and shoots it from a hide, that’s a canned lion hunt. You know, everyone wants to argue that a canned lion comes from the petting zoo. No, canned hunting is anything that is ‘in the can’, in other words guaranteed. That’s where the phrase canned hunting came from. So, you know, even if you hunt a herbivore, an elephant, whatever it is, and it’s been earmarked, that’s a canned hunt.

Lions in a canned hunting facility, South Africa 📸 Wild@Life e.V.

The point is that many people say that canned hunting is only as a result of an animal that’s born and bred in captivity, raised by humans and then put into an enclosure and shot by a trophy hunter, or a ‘trophy murderer’. You know, that’s not my definition. I think the definition of hunting is the animal has a fair chance of escape - a fair chase principle. If there’s a fair chase principle, and the animal, no matter what it is, has a chance of evading the hunter then that’s a hunt. But if the animal’s lost its advantage in terms of evading the hunter… that’s a canned hunt in my books.

For me, the big issue I have, besides obviously lions being shot that don’t stand a fair chance, is the lies that are perpetuated within the industry. Tourists still believe that the cub that they’re petting is going to be released into this wonderful wilderness area and live out happy life, and that simply isn’t true. And then this new narrative that’s been perpetuated, that these facilities nowadays say ‘well we’re keeping all the lions that we breed so come pet our lions, but we keep all of our lions in this lovely home that we have and that makes it all better’. Some may even claim to be a sanctuary for lions. And I look at that and I go, ‘really people?’ Are you that stupid?

Lion cubs in canned hunting facility, South Africa

Lion cubs in a canned hunting breeding facility, South Africa 📸 NJR ZA at wts wikivoyage / CC BY-SA

Are those the same people that see photos on social media and go out and do stupid things? Are those the same people that look at photos and want to go pet lions? Perhaps a bit of both. But really, are you that stupid that you think that by keeping all the lions that you breed that makes it okay? Because do the arithmetic, lions breed prolifically!

If your breeding lions, for example in a park, and many parks have many more lions than this, but let’s say that you just had 2 lionesses and they were breeding and they breed 4 cubs each - that’s 8 lions and you took all those lion cubs away for the petting. They (the lionesses) come back into oestrus and they have another 4 cubs each - that’s now 16 lions. Let’s say they only breed twice a year - that’s 16 more lions every year and now you’re trying to tell me that you’re building enclosures to accommodate 16 lions every year and you’re giving them a wonderful life until the day they die? Pull the wool over the other one mate, that’s not gonna happen. They can’t possibly keep all the lions they breed. Just another way of convincing the tourist to come pet the cub. And then there’s all these other spin offs of cub petting, there’s lion walking, and then there’s the lion bone trade, obviously there is the canned hunting, so there’s many aspects to the breeding of lions."

Josh: "So, you did touch on this, but just clearly, what can people do to help with the problem of canned hunting? Is it avoiding these cub petting places completely?"

Kevin: Well you know there’s 300 lion breeding facilities in South Africa... 300!

Josh: “Wow!”

Kevin: "Yah. You do the maths. Now imagine if each facility only had 10 lions. Now we know there are 12,000 odd lions in captivity. But, are all these facilities cub petting and tourist facilities? I would answer the question no, they’re not. So, one component is obviously the unsuspecting tourist coming in and petting the cub, that’s the one aspect. But the other is, even if you snuffed that out, would that bring an end to canned hunting? I’m saying no it wouldn’t, because there are people who breed lions not to be petted; they breed them to be slaughtered and for their bones to be sold to the far east. So yes, awareness around people coming to South Africa and not supporting those types of facilities would bring those petting facilities to their knees, but probably wouldn't stop the industry.

What makes me concerned is that many, many, many documentaries have been made, we’ve had many campaigns around it, we’ve got a lot of NGOs that are beating on about it all the time – the cub petting industry and the responsible tourism - and I thought well maybe we are making headway? And then on Sunday I passed one of the famous petting facilities, and their car park was overflowing. Which just shows that there’s still this immense appetite to play with these clubs and to pet these cubs.​

So, if we are thinking that people around the world are going to change their behaviour, and that this narrative if repeated enough, we will believe it, then