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Cecil the Lion: The many dark sides to trophy hunting



  • Death of iconic lion has hit the headlines and led to growing condemnation of trophy hunting
  • FOUR PAWS is campaigning for a ban on canned hunting and import of lion trophies


London, 29 July 2015 - The case of  Zimbabwe lion Cecil has outraged animal lovers and others worldwide. The famous 13year old lion was killed early this month  after being illegally lured out of the Hwange National park by a hunting outfitter. Only yesterday it was revealed that Cecil was killed by an American trophy hunter. The safari operator and the outfitter are now wanted by Zimbabwean police for poaching and illegal hunting, and the American hunter could now face charges. 


This case shows another grim side of trophy hunting in African countries.  An especially treacherous form of hunting is the “Canned Hunting” of captive animals from breeding farms, which about 1000 lions in South Africa fall victim to every year.


Julie Sanders, Country Manager of FOUR PAWS UK: “On the surface this case may appear to support captive breeding of lions to alleviate the pressure on wild populations but this is not the case. There is mounting evidence that numerous lions are being lured out of conservation areas to be hunted or trapped to improve captive bloodlines.”


Today, around 6,000 captive animals in about 200 farms in Zimbabwe’s neighbouring country South Africa are threatened with this gruesome fate. There is no evidence that the finances raised by hunting captive lions supports conservation nor that canned hunting prevents fewer wild lions being hunted – as the case of Cecil shows. Canned Hunting needs to be prohibited and the entire situation of wild lion hunting in Africa needs to be reviewed. The commercial hunting of animals offers a lot of potential for abuse as Cecil’s death shows. On top of this, a hunt is always an intervention in the population structure and makes natural mechanism ineffective. 


The number of wild lions has been shrinking for years, the populations remain distributed in a number of protected areas as their ranges are gradually diminished. Recently the IUCN Red List stated that they believe there is more likely to be fewer than 20,000 lions in Africa, than the figure of over 30,000 which is sometimes cited.


FOUR PAWS has been campaigning for a ban on canned hunting and commercial lion breeding farms in South Africa for years and is currently running a petition to end the practice:


“FOUR PAWS aims to improve the situation for big cats on an international level. Our unique Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa offers a species-appropriate home to over a hundred lions and tigers – some animals have also been rescued from the canned hunting industry,” says Ioana Dungler, Director of the Wild Animals Department of FOUR PAWS in an interview with CNN. “In addition the organisation is pleading for a general ban on the import of lion body parts to the US or the EU. Australia is a forerunner on that front having implemented such a ban earlier this year.  This prevents hunters – like the American dentist that shot Cecil – from bringing home lion hunting trophies, which would make the industry as a whole much less appealing.”


In the past few days the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) has expressed the need to review its current policies and definitions regarding canned hunting and lion breeding. This is in light of mounting public condemnation of the despicable practice and calls for it to be outlawed in South Africa. South African Outfitters, another professional hunting body, have gone further and expressed their opposition to the practice of captive breeding and canned hunting of lions in a press release dated earlier this month.



Around the world, countless numbers of big cats are forced to live and suffer in circuses, badly-run zoos, or in private keeping. Many are kept in extremely cramped conditions, are incorrectly or insufficiently fed, suffer from illness, or exhibit behavioural disorders. FOUR PAWS aims to improve the situation for these fascinating wild animals that are not only beautiful, but also dangerous, making it even more important that they are not kept in unsuitable conditions or handled incorrectly. One of the facilities run by FOUR PAWS is the unique big cat sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa, which now offers a species-appropriate home to over a hundred lions and tigers, rescued from poor keeping conditions. FOUR PAWS also runs far-reaching campaigns for big cats in human care, including campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses, and the closure of zoos with unsuitable facilities. With its new initiative, #FOURPAWSgowild, FOUR PAWS is raising awareness internationally about both the suffering of big cats in captivity, and the positive solutions that can end this suffering. Under the guise of entertainment (circuses), education (zoos), medicine/tradition (healing substances made from tiger bones), and sport (trophy hunting in Africa) thousands of big cats around the world lead miserable lives in appalling conditions. The international #FOURPAWSgowild campaign gives them a voice.