Cute or Canned?

Every so often, I bet you come across a photo like this:

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100

It looks like a lucky person, on their gap year, having an amazing experience petting and looking after some cute and tiny lion cubs. Look at their t-shirt and you can even see it says ‘Volunteer.’ Someone who has most likely saved up a lot of money to spend on the year of a lifetime. Experience a different culture. Learn about a unique environment and it’s wildlife. Raise lion cubs for slaughter.

Wait what? Surely that last sentence was a typo.

Unfortunately, for the majority of the time, that is the stark reality of it. People from all around the world are paying tourist companies for what they believe is just the chance to pet a baby lion, when in reality they are being raised for another person to pay a lot of money to kill it. To hunt it in an enclosed area. To pose with it when it has been shot dead. To call it a trophy.

When an animal has been denied the element of a fair chase, either by physical or mental constraints, the act of hunting it is termed ‘Canned Hunting.’ A branch of trophy hunting, canned hunting is used to almost guarantee the customer a kill. The animal is usually placed in a fenced area, where the customer will enter with a trained guide. After a lifetime of human contact, the animal does not perceive the hunter as a threat. Sometimes they even approach them, expecting to be fed. The end result is inevitable.

Most people by now have heard of Cecil the Lion, shot by an American dentist for sport. Cecil was a wild lion, who had become well known as he was being scientifically monitored.

In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)

His death is a tragedy, but luckily his life was not. The same cannot be said for canned lions. Every year, around 1,000 lions are bred for this ‘sport.’ But it’s not just lions, it’s tigers and cheetahs too. It’s any animal for which there is a demand. Their lives are spent in captivity, surrounded by humans, separated from their mothers. Captive females are often forced to breed on a much more regular basis than they would naturally, to keep up with demand.

Costing around US$25,000- $50,000, it’s much cheaper than the $75,000 safari hunts, and safaris don’t even guarantee you a kill.

A recent campaign has produced a documentary, Blood Lions, laying down the truth about canned hunting in a touching film. You can get involved by signing up to the Blood Lions team and spread awareness of this issue. National Geographic has written a report on the issue, based around Blood Lions. One group who has already started raising awareness in my local area are Loved to Death, a group set up by students at the University of Exeter, campaigning to raise awareness of all lions set for the trophy hunting trade.

There are numerous petitions you can sign, here’s one. Campaign Against Canned Hunting is another group you can get involved with. It’s an issue that has been raised by PETA.

It’s obviously a massive issue, but it’s also a massive business. It’s a problem that therefore will require a prolonged group effort to make a difference. It requires awareness by anyone who wants to go on a cub petting experience. If you’re planning a trip like this, do some research on where you are going. What is the end result for that cute lion cub you spend the day cuddling?

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