Image: Corey Leopold, Flickr
A German zoo, the Serengeti-Park Hodenhagen, has sold three lions to a South African park known for offering inexperienced hunters the opportunity to join professionals in a hunt. Under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), African lions are endangered but not threatened. As such, African Lions do not benefit from the strict protections on import and export of species threatened with extinction. But a potential exporter must still present a "non-detriment finding" and have a permit for the export. What will become of the lions in Africa?
According to reports in the German news daily Tagesspiegel, the owner of the Serengeti Park, Fabrizio Sepe, was assured after the German Ministry for the Protection of Nature contacted their partners in South Africa: the animals would be used only for photo-safaris and breeding programs, it was promised. But that has not calmed animal protection groups, who are advocating for stronger protection against zoo animals being sold for breeding if successive generations will be deliberately used to attract people to the sport of killing big cats.
Advocates of the practice of "canned hunting" argue that breeding lions to be killed serves to protect animals in the wild. After all, there are people out there still seeking to prove their prowess in the "pinnacle of African Dangerous Game hunting", (quote from a hunter's forum where the fear of up-listing lions reigns). But the fact is that this booming trade is becoming desperate for "new blood" as successive generations of captive-bred lions become increasingly inbred.
The lions from the German zoo boast thick, black manes -- a prized trait in the stuffed souvenir which, as a CITES Appendix II listed species, can still be imported legally back home to support bragging rights. Bragging rights which might inspire the next bold hunter to make the long trip to the home of a fast-fading symbol of lost wilderness, where he too may test his luck.
It is this vicious cycle that puts animal activists in opposition to "canned hunting:" making a popular, even "safe," sport out of lion hunting puts pressure on the animals left in the wild -- either in the form of poaching trophies in the wild or because animals are taken from wild populations for breeding to support hunting farms. Experts estimate that only 23,000 lions remain in the wild on the African continent.