There are now more captive Lions in South Africa than wild ones; approx 11000 compared to 2000 living in the wild. Many of these animals are reared specifically to be shot and owned by wealthy tourists from Europe and North America. Between 2001-2006 1830 Lion trophies were exported from South Africa, in the following five years 4062 trophies were exported from SA an increase of 122%. As result of this increase in 2011 the South African government effectively banned the practise of ‘canned hunting’ by requiring an animal to roam free for two years before it could be hunted, severley restricting breeders and hunters’ profitability. But lion breeders challenged the policy in South Africa’s courts and a high court judge eventually ruled that such restrictions were ‘not rational’. The number of trophy hunted animals has since soared. Demand from the Far East is also driving profits for lions breeders. In 2001, two lions were exported as “trophies” to China, Laos and Vietnam; in 2011, 70 lion trophies were exported to those nations. While the trade in tiger parts is now illegal, demand for lion parts for traditional Asian medicine is soaring. In 2009, five lion skeletons were exported from South Africa to Laos; in 2011, it was 496. The legal export of lion bones and whole carcasses has also soared. Breeders argue it is better that hunters shoot a captive-bred lion than further endanger the wild populations, but conservationists and animal welfare groups dispute this. Wild populations of lions have declined by 80% in 20 years, so the rise of lion farms and canned hunting has not protected wild lions. In fact, according to many opinions it is fuelling it. The lion farms’ creation of a market for canned lion hunts puts a clear price-tag on the head of every wild lion, they create a financial incentive for local people, who collude with poachers or turn a blind eye to illegal lion kills. Trophy-hunters who begin with a captive-bred lion may then graduate to the real, wild thing. Perhaps what’s so hard to understand about trophy hunters is not the thousands of dollars they spend to kill wildlife nor their intense desire to destroy what is rare, big and beautiful. It’s that so many trophy hunters do seem to genuinely love animals. Certainly they know a great deal about the animals they kill and speak in tones of reverent awe when describing their beauty. Many if not most trophy hunters have a favourite animal. It’s just that a trophy hunter’s favourite is very often the same animal they most want to kill.
Sony World Photography Award 2012