Botswana’s minister of agriculture, Christian de Graaff, is under fire after he exported a large shipment of lions to a canned hunting outfit in South Africa last month.
De Graaff sent 22 lions to the Makhulu Game Farm near Boshof in the Free State. Employees at the facility, owned by Henk Vorster, openly discuss how the lions are hunted and their skeletons sold to Asian buyers. Some are bred for sale to international zoos.
At the game farm, a popular local tourist venue about 80km from Kimberley, 18 young lions were crammed together in a small quarantine enclosure of about 30m by 30m this week. With no shade and only a tiny corrugated iron-roofed hut to protect them, they were panting furiously in the blazing heat.
Other camps hold fewer lions – full-maned males and white lions. The excrement is cleaned only every two weeks, according to staff, and the stench from this and the carcasses of the donkeys fed to the lions is overwhelming. Many of the young lions are hand-reared and respond to calls from staff members, who said that until recently, there were 300 of the big cats on the farm. Now there are only about 200, including the 22 exported by De Graaff.
When a lion is sold to a trophy hunter, it is moved into a larger camp across the road and “re-wilded” for at least three months, staff said. Some are sent to other hunting farms, most often near Tosca in North West province.
After the trophy head is taken from the body, the bones are removed and the rest of the carcass is buried, they said. According to figures released by the environmental affairs department last year, the skeletons can fetch up to R80 000 and often end up being ground into potions for fake “tiger wine” or “tiger cakes”.
Vorster, who has a spares shop in Hartswater and several other farms in addition to Makhulu, refused to speak to the media about the lions this week. “I am breeding with them [sic], but it is a private business and has nothing to do with you,” he said.
How do we save the lions?
A new film from Dereck and Beverly Joubert, National Geographic explorers-in-residence, looks to answer that question, and highlights the complex relationship between man and beast as the number of great cats across Africa dwindles. The feature documentary, called “Game Of Lions,” delves into the challenges facing lions, especially males — although cubs are born in equal male-female ratios, only one in eight male lions reaches adulthood. With poaching, hunting and encroaching humans threatening a growing number of the animals, the film hopes to shed light on the difficulties these lions face.
In addition to producing award-winning films and stunning wildlife photography, the Jouberts have been advocating for the African predators for decades, launching the Big Cats Initiative in partnership with the National Geographic Society to promote conservation efforts on the ground.
The Huffington Post spoke with the Jouberts about their new film and their ongoing fight to save the world’s great cats.