Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Want to help lions? For real?

Before I kick-off with this, let me state upfront so nobody can miss it: lion breeding in South Africa should be banned. The hunting of lions is clearly out of sync with middle class, Western public sentiment, and increasing their numbers merely exacerbates the problem. Breeding big cats for the gun is something that will go the way of bear-baiting: quaint, terrible and unimaginable. In the short to medium term, we have several thousand lions in private hands who will probably end up in the lion bone trade, because it costs a lot to feed them. We can only hope that the price for lion bone doesn’t reach a point where there’s an incentive to poach lions like rhinos. As it is, we have a lion bone trade now because tigers have virtually been wiped out in the wild.

Now, to the issue at hand. By now, just under 500 000 people have signed a petition asking the South African government to ban Melissa Bachman from entering the country again. Half-a-million people think they’ve done something useful, and that they can go on with their lives because hey, online outrage is so much easier than doing anything meaningful.


However, if you’re interested in making more than empty gestures, here are some options.

1. Before you do anything, find out about the real issues in lion and big cat conservation.
Understand that the threats to lions (and wildlife) in general are less about hunting – though that’s a problem – and more about habitat loss and the ever-increasing encroachment on wild areas. Hunting is more of a problem in countries like Tanzania where it is not always well-managed. In Namibia, where communities benefited from hunting, the size of areas under conservation has increased.

In South Africa, where, not only are lions being bred for the gun, there are so many lions on privately owned conservation land that they have to be culled, the issues are totally different. Long story short: hunting is good at expanding habitat for wildlife, not as good at conserving individual species where there is a temptation to over-hunt.

2. Donate to Panthera.
This week I put my money where my mouth is and donated $100 to the world’s leading big cat conservation entity. Project Leonardo is devoted to lion conservation in high conflict areas.

3. Put pressure on supermarkets to provide predator-friendly meat products.
Leopards, jackal and caracal are shot as vermin. Demand that the lamb you chuck on the braai was not raised at the expense of cheetahs and other predators routinely accused of killing livestock.

4. Support NGOs that work on predator conservation, not just lions.
The Landmark Foundation does important work to conserve predators outside protected areas. The WWF and Endangered Wildlife Trust do excellent work. If you’re passionate about doing something about rhino poaching, the SAB Boucher Trust (who’ve hosted me on two rhino captures) is well worth supporting. If you love snow leopards (I love snow leopards) then help them out here.

All these NGOs need resources to help big cats and other predators out in the field. Donate instead of spending money on Christmas aftershave gift sets.

5. Consume thoughtfully.
Your greatest power is as a consumer. Every choice you make about the kind of food you buy impacts on the land and how it is used. So make the effort to find out where your food comes from, and make choices that reward producers who are responsible in their stewardship of the land, and punish those who are not by not supporting them with your cash.

6. Get creative.
If habitat loss is a major problem, and you don’t like hunting, start a Kickstarter fund to buy land for conservation (if you stock it with game, be aware that culling will become necessary down the line). Create jobs. Photographic tourism on its own is not enough, and we will have to get to a point where land is privately owned and maintained for conservation as a collective good, rather than an investment for individual financial gain. Importantly, demonstrate to poor people in rural areas that wildlife has value. (Funny how they’ve been almost totally forgotten in this debate, and they’re the ones who ultimately decide whether wildlife has a place in this world.)

If you care about conservation and biodiversity, then do something meaningful. Just don’t think that outrage for its own sake achieves anything for the animals you’re trying to save.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • Cecil, the dentist and a mass extinction event
  • The consequences of a total ban of trophy hunting
  • Me and Melissa Bachman
  • Lion hunts and other things we don’t like
    • Momma Cyndi

      Whilst I agree with most of what you wrote, some of it is impractical. Supermarkets and butchers normally get their meat from an abattoir. They don’t know where it comes from and, half the time, the abattoir doesn’t know where it comes from. Even shops where stringent measures are in place to give ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ have glitches in the system.

      If the breeding programs are contributing to keeping a larger DNA stock going then it is fine. One of the big problems with slicing the continent into tiny little patches of game reserves is that the animals cannot travel so inbreeding becomes an issue. The more diverse the DNA that is saved, the more likely the species will continue to exist. That is why De Wildt sanctuary still does limited breeding with cheetahs and wild dogs – not because we need more of them in SA but because we need the DNA to be preserved (it is a lick and a spit from Joburg and their gift shop has some very nice stuff which could be used for christmas presents)

    • Paul Bluewater

      I appreciate I’m probably in the minority here, but why would the country turn it’s nose up at a huge sustainable industry that is a true natural resource.
      I maintain that all the so-called “taboo wildlife products” should be traded freely and an industry encouraged.
      I would argue that death in the field by .50 rifle, is way better than death in the long and frantic abattoir queue?!
      Who gives a hoot about where lion bones go, there is a market for them , and they lead to a more complete utilization of the resource? Cattle bones in bone-meal or Lion bones in Asian medical muti; is there really a moral argument for one over the other?!
      How is Rhino horn any different from a Nguni skin, if the species are commercially farmed.
      Ban it all ban none, it is the only supportable logic frankly.
      I suspect you’ll have the support of the anti-fracing clan, but not the few who need to meet payrolls and create employment…

    • Eugene

      If we are happy to farm cattle for their milk, meat and skins, it is not clear to me why we should be unhappy to farm lions for their bones or as trophies for hunters.

      Simply arguing that it is “distasteful” doesn’t tell us much. What is distasteful to me (as indeed any form of hunting is) is not necessarily to the hunter. In the meantime, game farms contribute to preserving the gene pool. We slaughter chickens and cattle by the millions, yet they are not endangered, precisely because they are farmed and have commercial value.

      Perhaps this is one case where commercial and conservation concerns need not actually be in conflict?

    • J

      @ Paul Bluewater and Eugene – Yes, wildlife is there. Yes, we can sell wildlife for cash. You argue that it is defensible to breed animals, including lions, for the sole purpose of slaughter, and thus profit. We also have people in this country- we can sell them for profit too – it’s called human trafficking. I can imagine you saying: Why turn our noses up to an industry that employs so many dubious young Mafiosi? Who gives “a hoot” about young men and women if there is a market for their exploitation? The reason people fight against these things is based on morality: because it’s wrong. Like selling people into slavery, it’s wrong to turn the whole of planet Earth into a hunting pen for the privileged. Pointing to capital and saying “look at the money” is a morally bankrupt argument. We can make money out of anything, including the sale of our own children.
      People, generally, are steeped in hypocrisy– they award animals a sliding scale of regard – lions are no-go to kill, but it’s OK to eat bacon. They google pics of dewy-eyed kittens to cheer themselves up, while mindlessly munching a ham sandwich. It’s rather stupid.
      We need to: a; not commodity the natural world and b; not eat meat. Moral dilemma solved.

    • J


    • Matt Black

      @Eugene. Thats my thought on rhinos too. Think of rhinos and lions as a valuable commodity rather than as fluffy cats or cute beasties with horns and we can use their commercial value to save them.

      @Momma Cindi. Sure, supermarkets don’t always know where their supplies come from but the moment PnP, Spar and Checkers demand that their suppliers offer predator friendly meat, the farmers and slaughterhouses will find a way to make it happen. The supermarkets will only demand it if we, the consumers demand it.

    • the lion people

      Dear Sarah

      Thank you for your good sentiment.

      You humans are so brilliant. You have contraceptives. Please administer these to us to prevent culling and trophy hunting, and ban all trophy hunters from South Africa and through-out the world.

      Killing us for fun is morally unacceptable in the animal kingdom, but some humans still indulge in this untasteful immoral practice.

      Those who poach for lion bone should be treated like those who poach for rhino horn, several rhino poachers were recently shot dead and others arrested. We animal people never hunt humans for fun and place your human head on the wall of our den or use your toe nails to get a hard-on.

      We lion people will eat you if we are hungry, or kill you if threatened. We do not use human bones as medicine, nor use human skins on the floors of our lion dens, nature keeps us healthy until our time is up. When its time to move on to the after-life we leave the pride and die in dignity.

      But please stop humans shooting us in the face for fun and placing photos of your egotistical victories on the internet. Its so barbaric.

      Thank you.

    • Andrew

      One more Sarah: be responsible about the car you drive. Driving a great big SUV contributes to climate change, environmental degradation and resource depletion.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Matt Black #

      We can’t get Halal and Kosher meat labeled properly (heck, we can’t even get meat meat labeled properly), what chance is there of getting farm meat labeled correctly? It will just be the same old farce as the ‘free-range eggs’ are. If we are going to be pedantic about it, every square inch of farmland takes away from the natural habitat so NONE of them can claim to be predator friendly..

    • caracal

      Okay, one person know that the food(meat) can’t be controlled through the slaugtherhouses and the other don’t need human skins on the floor of their den(with flat screen tv).

      Right: Nice to be levelled now, the stronger should win! Silly people!

    • the lion people

      “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”.

    • Momma Cyndi

      caracal #

      The lion won’t need your skin and won’t care about the flat screen tv but they won’t be particularly concerned about using human bones as a carpet. I’m simply not convinced that the logistics of marking meat as ‘predator friendly’ is possible. It may well be. I only buy dolphin and sea-bird friendly tuna so it is possible – but who will make it believable?