Up to 200 farms in South Africa breed lions for such “canned” high-priced trophy hunts, according to an investigation published on the front page of the UK’s Mail on Sunday this week.
Wealthy foreign hunters are sent WhatsApp messages with detailed images of captive lions available for them to hunt in South Africa – for prices of up to R780,000 each.
The investigation was funded by Lord Ashcroft, a prominent British politician and philanthropist, who dubbed it “Project Simba”. It stretched over the course of a year and involved ” former Special Forces and security operatives” who infiltrated lion breeding in South Africa, Ashcroft said.
His team found a thriving business of captive lions, Ashcroft said, including “green hunts” where lions are darted with a sedative before for a trophy photo. Another aspect of the business, he says, is the creation of lion and tiger cross-breeds, ligers and tigons, in order to speed up growth and so have heavier bones to sell in the thriving market for traditional medicines in mostly China and South East Asia.
A tiger cross-breed, he says, can achieve the bone mass of a 9-year-old lion in just three years, maximising profits at the expense of birth defects.
Posing as potential clients, the team was offered various lions to hunt, with prices ranging from R1850,000 to R780,000 depending largely on the quality of the mane.
in one instance, the price included three nights of accommodation.
Ashcroft hopes South African authorities will be “shocked and embarrassed into action” on canned lion hunting.
“By allowing such a barbaric practice, the South African Government is harming the reputation of a country that treasures its position on the international stage in the aftermath of apartheid,” he said in a statement.
He has also called on the government of the United Kingdom to ban the import of captive-lion trophies, urging his home country to not be complicit in the trade.
In one instance Ashcroft’s team documented how the UK representative of a South African safari operator advised a similar American ban on trophies could be bypassed: export the lion skin to Britain, package it inside the skin of a deer, then export that to the USA.
Citing only “well-informed sources”, Ashcroft says there are now an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa, far more than the total number in the wild.