Since the Walter Palmer hunting debacle in Zimbabwe last year (the controversial and unethical killing of Cecil the lion) and the world-wide screening of the documentary Blood Lions, the lion trophy hunting industry has found itself under fire from an increasingly
environmentally aware public.
With wild lion populations showing signs of acute decline across the African continent, South Africa’s burgeoning captive-raised lion industry stands alone as the top contender for the 'con' in conservation award.
Many criticise trophy hunting industry stake-holders for their brutal cruelty towards the species. Available export details and investigative analysis by Karl Ammann and others shows South Africa’s predator industry is also actively involved in promoting and supplying lion and tiger body parts and bones to the Asian market, as well as perpetuating a demand for the killing of wild lions, whether legally or illegally.
Some hunting record books no longer recognise canned or captive raised lions as record-setting trophies, so fame and glory seekers like infamous US dentist Walter Palmer seek out the biggest and the strongest wild lions as the “ultimate” trophy in their quest to satisfy their egos.
When US Fish & Wildlife Service announced that as of January 22 2016, all American trophy hunters would have to file additional permits before they could import their trophies from Africa, many conservationists (mistakenly) believed that lion hunts would be reduced.
So when a Free State lion-breeding operation put 61 captive-bred lions on a catalogue auction this month, it made wildlife industry headlines. It was to be a massive lion sale, even by South African lion industry standards.
Advertised by South Africa’s biggest wildlife-game auctioneer, Vleissentraal, the auction was held last Wednesday at the Olivia Private Game Reserve near Bloemfontein, and saw 61 lions and two leopards go under the hammer.
Olivia markets itself as the ideal N1 stopover, weekend getaway, wedding venue, and team-building conference location for that perfect corporate or private function.
However, closer inspection revealed the dark underbelly of the happy pleasure resort. Olivia runs breeding programs for White Lion, White Bengal Tiger as well as Black Leopard.
One potential buyer who asked not to be named, told us he previewed some of the animals before the auction kicked into gear, but decided at the last minute not to risk buying.
“As a breeder, I felt I would rather wait, and if necessary, even spend R10 000 more for animals with parentage I could verify. In this game, the cardinal rule is buyer beware”.
“Some of the lions we were shown appeared to have physical defects, genetically speaking," he added, "and there was no way of checking the lineage of the stock. The terms and conditions set out by the auction house were loaded in the sellers’ favour.”
(Judge for yourself by looking at this two-minute undercover video taken at the sale. Check out the strange short-legged one-eyed tiger, typical result of reckless inbreeding):
Asked to describe the setting, he described the lion enclosures as ten to fifteen hectares of electrified high-fencing with hardly a tree in sight for shade from the scorching African sun.
With nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide, it sounded like battery lion-breeding on an industrial scale. Hundreds of lions, both white and tawny, some with red skin-tones and sought after black manes.
Despite the large reported attendance, our sources confirm most of the lions sold on site were bought by only a handful of buyers, including a couple of invisible telephone buyers.
While the bidding was brisk, most final offers only just met minimum reserve prices, and some experts believe that the average prices fetched at the auction were indicative of inferior genetics and possible in-breeding.
By the time the hammer fell on two leopards at SAR58,000 each, the last lot of the day, just over R2 million had changed hands.
Notable amongst those reportedly rubbing shoulders at the auction, were:
Kobus Van der Westhuizen of Letsatsi La Afrika, a controversial predator trader and lion-bone exporter,
Casper van der Merwe of Paemenons Safaris, a North West lion hunting-outfitter
Bethlehem lion breeder and trader Maryn Prinsloo,
Marius Prinsloo, her former lion-farmer husband ,who arrived separately.
Free State game-breeder and hunting outfitter, Marnus Steyl, who was charged for his role in the Chumlong Lemtongthai pseudo-rhino-hunting scam in North West Province.