Canned Lion Hunting

There is a growing concern about the lion industry in South Africa. And quite rightly so. There are about 20,000 lions left in the wild, in South Africa there are about 7,000 lions in captivity. In the province I live in, North West, there are over 130 registered lion farms. Over 20 of them registered as hunting farms. The lions hunted on these farms are mainly captive bred.

What makes a hunter go out and shoot an animal that has been born in captivity, knows nothing of living free?

When the South African government brought out the new TOPS regulations a few years back they had a road show to present the new laws. I went to the one in Pretoria where it was very civilised, valid questions on how to go about permits, break for tea and cookies. Back to the question and answer. I understood how the system was going to work.

I was then invited to go to another one in the far west, lion breeder country, by one of the conservation officials. I said I had been but she was insistent I go as I would be the only cheetah breeder. I was reluctant, these lion farmers are tough. But drove the 3 hours down to the farm where the meeting was being held. The farmer was a breeder, no hunting on his farm, he was the supplier. The room we had the meeting was like the Natural history museum. If you could think of any animal, it was there, stuffed and mounted, from budgerigars to bush pigs,

There were about 30 farmers and the two officials giving the road show brought along one of the ministers from the Province as back up. After three hours of non stop arguments we took a break for strong coffee, beer if you wanted and rusks. Then back to the battle. It was war. Eventually we took another break and the host said to me, “Tell that auntie you are working for I need a couple of cheetahs for a hunter that’s coming in.” I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not.

As I had a long drive back I excused myself and left very grateful I was not any of the conservation officials. They were having a very difficult time.

The Government implemented the laws, which for lion farmers meant a lion born in captivity must be released into a free area for two years before being hunted. The lion farmers were in an uproar, immediately gathered a few million Rands together to oppose the law. It went through all the courts to the very highest and they won. The Government had to change the law and I believe, could be wrong but not far off it, a lion must be kept for TWO days (some say 4) in a free/wild area before being hunted!

The hunter is brought in, obtains his permit, is driven round and round in circles in the fenced off area until suddenly he spots his lion. And with a very big gun, shoots it!

Canned hunting at its best.

Now the Government is going to allow lion bones to be exported to Asia as they have run out of tiger bones.

When all these animals are gone there is going to be a big hole in our soul. Unfortunately no matter how many people and organisations are trying to stop canned hunting it goes on, powered by big money. Can we stop it? I have no answer.

Global march for lions
Global march for lions

Too Late to Educate? The possible answer is yes!

Over the years of working with captive wildlife i have always believed that captive breeding of endangered species was the way to save the species. Then I changed my mind and realized that education was the number one priority. If people didn’t know what was happening how could they help?

But I have changed my mind again after reading this article;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/27/cheetahs-facing-extinction-amid-dramatic-decline-numbers/

Cheetah numbers are down to just over 7000 worldwide, a huge drop from the 12,500 I quoted in one of my posts. Zimbabwe has dropped from over a thousand cheetahs to around 150!!

Now if this is with all the research and observations going on by a large number of organizations then what happened? Where has that knowledge gone? I know cheetahs are difficult to count in a census because of their huge ranges but today’s figure has caused shock-waves around the animal world.

This is now where I go back to my original thoughts – Captive Breeding. Not an easy thing to do with any animal, very costly as new facilities would have to be built for various species. And they would have to be built to represent their own homeland.

The next BIG step would have to be a Global Co-operation within zoos and animal facilities. This, to me, is one of the biggest and hardest steps to take. I have been to many Global conferences where everyone gets all excited about working with each other and very little happens. I am talking mostly about cheetahs here.

So all you Zoos and animal exhibitors out there, who is going to take the first steps? Who can begin to look at priorities? It is going to take a very strong person to lead but someone has to step up somewhere.

The IUCN has a Captive Breeding Specialist group, can they step forward and lead the way, extend their programs?

I would be interested to hear back from anyone with ideas.

Me with 2 captive breeding males
Me with 2 captive breeding males

 

Too late to educate??

The world’s population is now over 7 billion people! Africa has 1.2 billion, ranking it second on the list of people per square kilometer, 4.1.

Big beautiful Africa
Big beautiful Africa

But Africa still remains the “Dark Continent” So little is known about what goes on in Africa in the “civilized world”!!

I have been working with Wildlife over 45 years, over 35 with Cheetahs. If you had asked me ten years ago what would be the way to save cheetahs from extinction, I would have replied, through captive breeding. Over the many years I have been working with cheetahs I have been fortunate to have bred quite a few and know that in captivity they can be bred. Although a difficult animal to breed, it can be done with patience and knowledge. Zoos and facilities around the world are now having more success than previously and with more global cooperation cheetahs could be bred in captivity for release into areas where they once roamed.

Cheetah breeding, or trying to!
Cheetah breeding, or trying to!

Cheetah numbers have dropped drastically (see my earlier graph), The reasons are many, loss of habitat, poaching, indiscriminate killing, illegal removing from the wild for sale. But we have enough cheetahs in captivity throughout the world to be able to sustain a viable population. BUT, and this is a very big BUT, this would mean a cooperation worldwide which would take a huge amount of management. That is another topic which could go on forever so to get back to the present.

I changed my mind about how to save cheetahs a few years ago on a trip to Europe. Linda, my wife, is Swedish and we would make trips to Sweden and Scotland to see family and also give a few presentations at schools and zoos on cheetahs. The lack of knowledge about cheetahs in the wild was amazing. There was genuine disbelief in our audiences when we gave them facts and figures about cheetah specifically and other wildlife in general.

Here were highly educated, affluent people who had not the faintest clue of what is happening in Africa, and to tell the truth many were not really interested in what happens to the Continent but were concerned about the fate of many of the animals. The biggest area of knowledge was about Rhinos, they have good PR, sending out the message of their decline. Elephants they knew were being poached but not at the scale of it. 90 a day, impressive figures!! That they did not know. Cheetahs they knew nothing about. Even when we gave talks to the general public in Zoos people were astonished at what we told them of their possible extinction.

Sharing Knowledge
Sharing Knowledge

The most common question asked when we spoke about breeding and how successful we had been was, “So where do you put the cubs?” A very valid question but obviously someone with no knowledge about cheetahs or South Africa. Firstly there is very little space to introduce cheetahs left in South Africa, what was happening that the wild population was being protected first, and relocated if absolutely necessary. Cheetah don’t do well in Reserves where there are other predators, Lions, Hyenas, so the majority live outside protected areas. Which leaves them open to being shot by farmers.

So the cubs are sent to zoos and breeding facilities, hopefully only recognized places where they know about cheetahs. Which brings us back to my change of mind. Education, followed closely by captive breeding, is the future for cheetahs. Let the public know what is happening, what can be done, what they can do. Cheetahs living in Zoos can be, and are used, as ambassadors for wildlife. Cheetahs can be hand raised and remain manageable. Allowing educators to use them. A living animal is a hundred times better to bring home a message than a picture or video. I have had first hand experience of this when we used to take a cheetah to rural schools in South Africa. A ten minute video kept the kids attention for a while but when we brought the cheetah into the classroom, attention was 110%. Children, who had almost never seen a wild animal before, were immediately transformed from being afraid to willing to learn more about how to conserve their heritage.

Alan and his girls
Alan and his girls

It can be the same with zoos, Educate. Let people know what is happening to their heritage, wild animals belong to the world. Without them we would be a lot poorer. By teaching conservation, by introducing young people to conservation, can be a way that many will grow up with a determination to do something constructive. If we still have the time!

BUT, and there are lots of buts here, there is a growing movement about breeding predators in captivity. Mainly caused by the lion farms in South Africa and canned hunting. There are more lions in captivity in South Africa than the wild, because it is very profitable for these farms to legally offer a lion to be hunted. The law allows for a captive bred lion to be shot after 2 days in a “wild area”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Money, money, money. But what has happened is many of those who want to stop canned lion hunting, and that includes me, also want to stop the breeding of other predators and that includes cheetahs. Which I think is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. With cheetahs we have a chance to repopulated areas again, reserves where they do not have to compete with other predators. And in such reserves cheetah breed well, all it needs is management because a reserve is really just a very big zoo. It would also mean a lot of money and time, knowledge on how to release. It can and has been done with 2 papers being written up by Honours students. The problem is how do we get people interested in financing and managing such a project. Zoos can educate, through their captive animals and raise awareness and funds

Which comes back once more to education, even those advocating not breeding predators have not done enough homework to justify these actions. They need educating too. I was attacked through Facebook and email by, what I thought at the time was a reputable organisation, for a picture of me carrying a cheetah cub. By the scruff, as the mother does, and by the base of the tail as it was a fairly large cub. The correct way to carry a cub. This bogus Doctor told me I was abusing the animal, hurting it and why was I breeding cheetahs? At first I thought he was genuine until he started verbally drooling at the mouth and his followers from Facebook were sending bad emails. I eventually “Googled” him and found he and his organisation were a farce, complete fake, living in a little town in England with a very believable website. He had 10 aliases, numerous complaints against him and was raising funds for who knows what.

He had in his own way proved that education works, but his way was not quite the correct way. He proved that with enough effort and bullshit he could convert idiots into bigger idiots, and take their money. BUT what about the real world. We are leaving no space for wildlife, so parks, zoos and reserves are the only options. And if someone disagrees with that tell me which world he/she is living in and I will gladly go and stay there. After 45 years I am tired of fenced in animals but see no other option. The animals I have in my care I have made sure that they have the biggest enclosures possible, provide enrichment, the best food. Not the same as living free but where do they go?

2 captive born cubs
2 captive born cubs

My dream, apart from taking out 75% of the world population, would be to travel the world with as much information as possible and EDUCATE. Let the world know about darkest Africa and the situation happening now before it is too late.

Okay, that’s it, I have come out of the closet, I never, ever would have thought that I would put education first over breeding.

Trust

Trust
Trust

One thing that is needed when working with animals is PATIENCE. Normally I am not a patient person but when it comes to working with Cheetahs I find that they are not the brightest of animals but with patience they will do what you want them to.

Such things as the routine feeding, cleaning their camps, the early morning check, something the cheetahs get used to. One of my favorite times is the early morning check up, walking quietly around all the enclosures, going in to see that the cheetahs are okay. This is a morning routine for the cheetahs as well, when they see me it is normally a stare as they lie in their overnight bushbed as if saying, “when’s lunch?” I, like most animal people talk to my cats, they don’t reply much but by being able to walk around or past them shows a trust in the animal.

My favorite picture is the one above. When we have cubs they, plus their mother, get fed twice a day, A routine everyone soon gets used to. Some mothers are greedy so I have to put 2 dishes in, one for her and the other for the cubs. Over time this regular pattern leads to a trust from the mother to let me put the dish closer to the cubs, they get used to the routine then something like the above picture happens.

I was patiently waiting for them all to finish, just sitting inside their enclosure when one of the cubs walked up to me. I put out my hand and the cub reached out to touch me. It was an amazing feeling, especially as the mother was watching the whole thing. Acceptance and trust.

Extinction in our lifetime

I have been very fortunate in my 45 years working with wildlife to have seen a whole lot of different animals, in different areas and other countries. My specialty has been with cheetahs, for over 30 years. In this I have been very lucky, for as the graph below suggests, maybe in 10 to 15 years time, cheetahs will be extinct in the wild. Can you imagine telling your grandchildren that there used to be a big cat that could run across the plains at over 100 kph? They would not believe you. And it is not only cheetahs that are in danger of extinction, most of the large mammals in Africa are in a perilous position. One major reason is they cannot reproduce quick enough to make up for the losses. An elephants gestation is 21 months (645) days. The latest report said 90 elephants a day are killed throughout Africa That means 58,000 are killed in the time it takes for 1 to be born.

Rhinos average 500 days, start breeding at 7 years and have young every 3 – 4 years. Over a thousand Rhinos were killed in South Africa last year

Life is a big cycle, remove one piece and the circle, over time, will collapse. Imagine if all predators were removed, or even a large percentage. The grass eaters and browsers would increase. Then overgrazing would occur, together with today’s weather changes. Too little food for too many animals, soon they would die off. Again Nature compensates in such cases, it sends out “pioneer” plants. Most inedible but enough to hold the soil together. A huge problem in South Africa where overgrazing has occurred is the growth of Sickle bush (Dichrostachys cinerea). It has good food value in its pods but soon forms an impenetrable barrier so nothing can penetrate it or grow under it.

All part of a living cycle that we are destroying at an alarming rate.

As I mentioned before being sidetracked again, I have worked with a huge variety of wildlife, mostly in captive conditions. But the proper captive facilities are going to be what could possibly save some of our wildlife, as long as they are well managed, have a plan and work with others going in the same direction.

Whilst working with cheetahs I approached the IUCN Release and Reintroduction group, asking if releasing cheetahs could be done in the future. The answer was an emphatic yes, but done properly. As the representative from IUCN said, many zoos and captive facilities have a dream. Breed an endangered animal and return it to the wild. But unless done properly the animal would be released to a slow but sure death,

At de Wildt we did 2 practice releases, both done over 2 years, with a Zoology student following every move of the released cheetahs. The first step was to  have an ecologist evaluate the land for release. Work out how many “prey” species could be put on this piece of land, taking into account they will be preyed on but also breed. Once that was worked out, how many cheetahs could we release without hurting the antelope population over the planned 2 year period. This was 1.5 cheetahs so the problem was which half of the cheetah to put on, the front eats, but needs the back to eliminate. We decided on 2 males as they eat from the same carcass.

The Zoology student, studying for her Masters degree spent 24 hours a day, almost, following the cheetahs. Everything was written down, how, why, when, where, how much, in which way. After 2 years this was written up as a Thesis and gave a huge amount of interesting information. A second release was done in a similar way but on a very much larger piece of land 4,000 hectares. Again with a student to write down what she could.

This was the way to do it, we would still need to do another couple of practice runs before we know what we are doing but it was a step in the right direction

That was for cheetahs, what about all the others we know we can breed in captivity and are rapidly diminishing in the wild. African Painted Dogs (Lycaon pictus),  second most endangered carnivore in Africa, after the Ethiopian wolf. The Riverine rabbit is number 1 in South Africa. I have had the pleasure of working with them but they are not easy and not rabbit like, giving birth to only 1 young at a time. But the list we know of goes on, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Rhinos, black and white, even a small reedfrog. But these are what we know of, the large mammals and lucky frogs. What about all the other lesser known, birds, mammals, insects, reptiles? Who is going to look after them if all the money and time is spent on the glamorous species. Who wants to save a funny little insect?

It gets very disheartening at times but then you read stories of success in release or breeding previously difficult species. As I said, I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, wished I could have seen and done more. My grandchildren have been with me on many occasions so they have at least seen many of the animals I have worked with or been on trips with me to see them in the wild.

What are you going to tell your grandchildren?

Something to think about!!

The year cheetahs are extinct?
The year cheetahs are extinct?

Apologies for the above graph, not very clear, but frightening!

A simple graph of the population of cheetahs in 1900 (100,000) through 2015 (est 7,500) and if the same trend continues the line takes us into 2025. That is just 10 years from now. No cheetahs left in the wild and very little being done about it now. There 2 ways we could help, education and captive breeding. BUT getting these 2 subjects as priorities in any country appears to be pretty slim. Too little, too late

About The Book

My book was started quite a few years back, forced on me by my wife Linda! I have led a very interesting life working with wildlife. From the zoo in Edinburgh, to Botswana with an animal catching outfit, South Africa on an ostrich farm. Then I helped built a crocodile farm, Was offered a position to manage a game farm, where there were 15 captive cheetahs. This was my first encounter with cheetahs and ended up being a 30 year love affair. I moved to de Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Center which I managed for 25 years. Helping to build it into the most successful cheetah breeding center in the world.
There has been quite an assortment of animals and people in my life who influenced me that deserve to be mentioned as being instrumental in helping me survive a real dream come true.
It starts at the beginning, when I was born and covers my journey through all of the above, I’ve added quite a few photographs from the early days to the present.

Everybody SIT
Everybody SIT