Trophy hunters shell out tens of thousands of dollars to bag a lion in one of South Africa’s “canned” hunts, in which a captive-bred animal is kept in a confined area, making it easy to kill. How sporting! As many as 7,000 lions are being legally raised in captivity to supply these predetermined chases, and the farms that breed them operate under a guise of conservation—arguing that their operations take pressure off the species in the wild. A new documentary, Blood Lions, blows the lid off these claims.
Captive lion breeding, the film argues, has nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with perpetuating a multimillion-dollar industry. The animals are too inbred to be released into the wild, and the bones of the lions that are killed are often sold to Asia, where they take the place of tiger bones on the traditional-medicine market. Conservationists say this only fuels demand for big cat bones, which could easily come back to bite wild lions.
The film tells a grim tale of unethical treatment and false promises, but it offers hope, too. Earlier this year, Australia became the first country to ban the import and export of lion-hunting trophies (read: body parts). If the documentary inspires other governments to follow suit, we have a shot at keeping these magnificent predators from becoming the prey of hunters who are just—let’s call them what they are—cheaters.
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