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.
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;
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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