Response to the Editorial
Was to me a very accurate assessment of the present issues surrounding the hunting of lions that are not born and raised in the wild.
As a biomedical research scientist, I have always tried to read and analyze issues based on available/perceived facts, minus all of the emotion and personal and political detritus that seem to be ever present in today’s way of approaching any and all issues, especially as it pertains to hunting.
From a purely behavioral standpoint, I am of the opinion that there is zero evidence, scientific or otherwise, that supports the idea that lions born and raised in captivity, and then released into the wild, are any different than those who are born and raised in the wild. So, why should captive-bred lions be treated any differently than their herbivore-counterparts? They should not, as they are all wild animals that will always be wild. I note that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) allows import of lions from South Africa, but only if they are harvested as “wild” or “wild managed”. I’m not sure there is much of real difference between the two and even lesser distinctions if one brings into the picture captive-bred lions that have also been released into the wild and then managed using the same conservation practices in place for all other lions. Unfortunately, I think the title “captive-bred” is unfortunately and falsely equated with “canned hunts”. Nothing could be further from the truth, if the same ethical standards are used for the care and management of all lions under consideration. We need to be mindful of these types of “false scenarios” that if spouted often enough end up being believed as a “true”, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
As to the issue of a few reported abuses based on ethical considerations, commonly referred to as “canned hunts”, if these truly exist, then they dutifully need to be condemned and dealt with appropriately. But to cast a wide net around the entire issue of hunting lions that were captive-bred and then released into the wild as unethical, is disingenuous to say the least. In the USA we term this “Fake News”… we need to get back to facts and not be misled by hypertensive emotions and misleading terminologies. As you may well know, “canned hunts” are not limited to lion hunts in South Africa. In 2014 I was lured into what ended up to being a “canned hunt” for a so-called
SCI Gold scoring roan antelope, which in fact had one horn that was very abnormally formed and the apparent sizes of both horns combined would never of put him into the lowest scoring level of the SCI record book. Upon arrival at the safari-site I viewed the antelope through a wire fence and realized what the situation was all about I immediately declined the non-hunt, had no further dealings with this particular safari company and went elsewhere for my roan. See attached photo of roan through the fenced area which was no more than a hectare or two.
It’s been also noted in several publications I’ve read that one of the opposition-issues surrounding captive-bred lion hunting vs wild-reared lion hunting is that there is no scientific data that shows that captive-bred lion hunting contributes to the overall survival of the species, when compared to the well managed hunting of lions in the wild. On the contrary, it makes perfect sense that the more lions available for the hunting public, the less the hunting pressure on this iconic species, thus the more likely that their survival in the wild and on game farms would be enhanced, if not guaranteed if captive-bred lion hunting was encouraged and well regulated. I think it can and must.
Upon my return from a successful leopard hunt in Zambia, in August of 2016, my PH drove me to a game farm in the Mpumalanga Province. While there we were treated to an opportunity to see first-hand the rearing of African lions. We were even afforded the privilege of being able to pick up and play with a few of their youngest tenants, cubs that were only a few weeks old. The adult lions certainly appeared as behaviorally wild any lions I’d observed in the wilds of Zambia and elsewhere. (Photos attached). I did not ask for any information as to who their clients might be, but assumed these lions were eventually destined for game farms or zoos… hopefully not into the Chinese medicinal-market, which I find totally disgusting, vile, and without scientific merit.
Now to the real issue that I believe is key to the infighting we are observing within the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) and its important professional organizational-satellites, such as Safari Club International, the Dallas Safari Club and others… who have in fact now sided with the rebellious few who have resigned from the PHAPA and formed their own organization called Custodians of Professional Hunting & Conservation.
From my perspective, this whole issue regarding the legitimacy of captive-bred lion hunting vs the harvesting of lions in the wild, is all about the issues of “supply and demand”. It is painfully obvious to me, and should be to others, that there are only just so many lion tags available from safari companies that can offer lion hunts and that their demand for same is far in excess of what they can legally offer. Thus, when the demand for lion tags is greater than the supply, the profit margin of safari companies that can offer these premier-type wild lion hunts will obviously be definitely lucrative and self-sustaining. Think about it, if captive-bred lion hunting were offered and recognized worldwide, as a legal and ethically legitimate lion hunt in South Africa, or elsewhere for that matter, then the safari companies who could offer such hunts would be in direct competition with their name-sakes in other countries. This obviously would be a real and very contentious issue, as from what I have been able to determine, a lion hunt in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique or elsewhere, could possibly cost a client nearly double, or more, of what one might expect to pay for a similar lion hunt conducted in South Africa. The reasons for this price disparity are many and are obvious to anyone in the safari industry, thus I will not elaborate further.
In conclusion, what are we left with? A fight over the “survival of the fittest”, a battle over the definitions of what is “legal and/or ethical”, a concern over fences vs natural physical barriers? Or, is it more about the “bottom line” or “economic survival” in a very competitive world? Whatever it is, we best get our act together, as all of this infighting is only giving the anti-hunting crowd more and more ammunition to continue their attacks on our shared and treasured heritage. Let’s all put on our “big boy” pants and sit down and work on our differences together as a unit. We can certainly do without the negativism that this issue has generated. I dare say, if it were not for the “Cecil” incident, we’d not be having this conversation. Sad, indeed.
Lloyd L. Smrkovski, Ph.D.
Commander-United States Navy-retired