In the December edition of African Indaba, (a hunting newsletter) the author of one of the stories criticises The South African Professional Hunting Association (PHASA)for making ‘an about turn’ on its lion hunting policy. The author is a well-known hunter, and has been very vocal on his stance about hunting ethics. Yet he wrote how he justified shooting a buffalo from the vehicle and this was not wrong! A complete contradiction of the Rowland Ward Guild Membership Rules which he introduced, and within which specifically preclude this mode of hunting.

Embracing and adopting the lion hunting practice in South Africa is the boldest thing, in my opinion, that PHASA has done in the past decade. Here’s why:

Pressure on wild lions: There is limited research to indicate whether the harvesting of 600-plus lions in South Africa actually relieves the pressure on the hunted free-range lions around Africa. What is certain is that hunters who used to hunt, or have wanted to hunt lion outside South Africa, but have not got their trophy, or can’t afford to hunt anymore in countries like Zimbabwe or Tanzania, are turning to South Africa to hunt their lion. Why? At $100 000- plus for the chance of finding a lion, along with other complications like whether it is over six years in age (even though this method of testing is inconclusive), versus the security of knowing you will take your trophy for less than half that amount is a no-brainer for some hunters. This simple appeal for captive bred lions has to be good for the long-term plight of the wild lion.

Fair hunt: Most writers on the subject have not actually hunted one of these lions in South Africa, yet they are so quick to comment on how authentic or not the hunt is. Everyone is well versed on the captive breeding of superior trophy White Tails in the USA and the ever-growing practice with other species here in South Africa and Namibia – all in the quest to satisfy the inch-fanatic hunter.

Public perceptions: Try explaining the difference between a dead lion next to the big game hunter, be if from the free wilderness of Namibia or a captive-breed operation in Limpopo. The lion is dead and there is a delighted hunter next to the trophy, period. Where the lion originated is secondary to the fact that most members of the public cannot understand how we can hunt a lion. That is the hurdle we need to overcome!

Stop the squabble: What the industry’s now doing is focusing on how the chairs on the deck of the Titanic are placed instead of watching the iceberg on the horizon. Debating and engaging in internal battles about what is ethical or not, and which lions are fair game, instead of uniting and getting together to actually educate the world that there is a place for various types of lion hunting is where we are losing this window of opportunity:

Lions in my opinion can be:

  • Captive bred and released on a 2500 acres or more (as per what PHASA has adopted).
  • Bred on a game-fenced eco-tourism game reserve (one could argue this is, in fact, captivity) and then hunted there (which could be 25000 acres or more).
  • Bred on a game-fenced reserve and then moved a 2500 acre property.
  • Hunted on a state-owned free-range land

Time will tell whether this is the right decision that South Africa is adopting, but for now, it is legal, it helps promote hunting, and addresses a good number of needs within the industry. The countries that have free-range lions for now, great! But let’s stop the internal battles and work together.

Richard Lendrum – Publisher African Hunting Gazette