As the audience rose to give a standing ovation at the UK premiere of Blood Lions at the Royal Geographical Society on Friday, sobbing could be heard around the theatre. My feelings were a mixture of anger, sadness and hope.

Anger at the people breeding lions so that they can be shot by trophy hunters.

Sadness at the terrible conditions that these lions live in and the unsuspecting volunteers who hand-rear and tame them making them easy prey for the hunters.

Hope that this ground breaking film will lead and ultimately win the fight to have canned hunting banned in South Africa.


Blood Lions Film Poster- lifting the lid on canned hunting

What is Canned Hunting?

In a nutshell it’s the shooting of lions that are bred in captivity, hand-reared and then shot by trophy hunters in a fenced reserve giving the lion no hope of escape. The kill is virtually 100% guaranteed. Sometimes the lions are drugged before the ‘hunt’. The trophy hunters can even pick out in advance which particular lion they want to kill from an online catalogue. I’m told males with black manes and few facial scars are very popular.

Introducing Blood Lions

Blood Lions is a hard-hitting documentary feature film which follows the journey of an environmental journalist and an American hunter as they step into the world of predator breeding and canned lion hunting industries in South Africa. It is a story that blows the lid off the conservation claims these operators make in their attempts to justify what they do.

Annually, over 800 captive, hand-reared lions are shot in South Africa, mostly by international hunters. It’s a multimillion dollar industry.

There are currently between 6,000 and 8,000 predators in captivity in South Africa, the vast majority of them are lions. Most live in appalling conditions yet the breeders claim they are involved in conservation and research initiatives and that the captive bred population will be the saviour of wild lions.

During the film we hear from recognized lion ecologists, conservationists and animal welfare experts who say that almost all these claims are in fact far from the truth.

In reality these captive lions if ever released would have little to no chance of survival and they are not genetically healthy having been bred from a limited gene pool for a number of generations.

Petting, Walking and Volunteering with Lions

Sadly it isn’t just the tourists that arrive with a gun in their hands that are to blame. Well meaning volunteers are also unwitting accomplices to canned hunting.

When the cubs are born on the breeding farms they are taken away from their mothers at just a few days old. This is for two indefensible reasons. Firstly so that the mothers will be able to breed again and produce another litter of cubs as quickly as possible and secondly so that unwitting volunteers can hand-rear them, often paying a couple of thousand pounds for the privilege. Tourists may also pay to have their photos taken with the cubs.

Cubs being reared for canned (captive) hunting in South Africa

When the cubs are a little older tourists pay to go on lion walks with them posing for photos and further taming the lions so that they are used to human company and have no fear of them.

Cubs being reared for canned (captive) hunting in South Africa

All this time the volunteers and tourists believe they are contributing to lion conservation.

Once they reach adulthood, many lionesses are shot and their bones are shipped to Asia as part of the growing industry to make products from them that are said, quite falsely, to bestow health benefits.

Almost all the male lions become victims of the canned hunting industry.

The film is a compelling call to action and shows how you can get involved in a global campaign to stop lions being bred for the bullet.

Cubs being reared for canned (captive) hunting in South Africa

Canned hunting is spreading

After the film I had the chance to talk to Pieter Kat from Lion Aid. He’s an internationally acknowledged expert on lions and is regularly consulted by African governments on lion conservation issues. He explained that the captive breeding of lions for canned hunting is now spreading into nearby countries such as Namibia and Zimbabwe and even in the USA in Texas there are already numerous ranches offering exotic species to be killed by canned hunters. Botswana on the other hand has banned such practices and has joined the campaign to end this ‘sport’.

Some airlines have banned transportation of predator trophies but need to go further and ban the transportation of the hunters’ guns (of which they are extremely attached to) and ammunition too (apparently they insist on bringing their own). Governments around the world need to follow Australia’s lead and ban the importation of animal trophies. Earlier this month France became the first European country to ban the import of such trophies.

Here in the UK the environment minister is threatening to ban trophy imports in 2017 if the African countries involved don’t improve practices. Too little, too late?

Find out more about how you can support the
campaign to ban canned hunting at



Michaela Strachan and the Born Free Foundation supporting Blood Lions

Before the screening I caught up with TV Wildlife presenter, Michaela Strachan, and the President of Born Free Foundation, Will Travers and invited them to share live on Periscope why they are supporting Blood Lions.


What questions should I ask, as a potential wildlife volunteer,
to avoid unethical facilities in Africa?

If you are thinking of volunteering or even visiting a wildlife facility in Africa claiming to be a sanctuary, the makers of Blood Lions suggest you ask the following questions before volunteering.

1. Ask the booking agent to tell you the exact name and place of the facility you will be visiting. And then check all the social media sites for comments and feedback on the facility.

2. Does the facility offer any form of human/animal interaction?

3. If it claims to be a sanctuary, do they offer life-long homes for animals?

4. Does the sanctuary trade in animals?

5. Have any of their animals been released into the wild? And if so, where and when?

6. If they make any conservation claims, ask to speak to the resident scientist, researcher or conservationist.

Find out more about how you can support the
campaign to ban canned hunting at

Photographs courtesy of Blood Lions

Sources: Blood Lions, Lion Aid, Born Free Foundation, The Guardian plus Dr Pieter Kat, Ian Michler, Michaela Strachan and Will Travers OBE.


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