According to South Africa’s Minister for Environment Affairs, Edna Molewa, there is a big difference between shooting of captive-bred versus shooting of canned lions.

In an article published in the Sunday Times (May 31, 2015), the Minister defended the policy of sustainable use of wildlife, which includes the use of captive-bred lions for hunting.

The justification is that, if lions can be bred for their products in a sustainable manner, marginalised communities can benefit economically and government and conservation agencies will gain much-needed funding.

At the same time captive-bred hunts will “alleviate pressure on the hunting of the wild lion population, which exists in smaller numbers”.

Lashing out at a spate of recent media reports the Minister said: “There appears to be a deliberate strategy by some to conflate canned lion hunting with captive breeding of lions. The former is strictly proscribed; the latter is allowed.”

But critics say the Minister is deliberately obfuscating the terminologies, citing that even though one remains ‘legal’ and the other not, “at the end of the day lions are still being bred in captivity to be killed in captivity”.

The minister admits that captive-bred lions may be “hunted” in a confined, enclosed or fenced-in area; it’s just that they cannot be tranquillised.

Furthermore, conservationists warn that captive-bred hunting actually might accelerate the demise of wild lions.

Dr Pieter Kat – a lion biologist and trustee of LionAid, a UK-based NGO – says that “by stimulating an Asian market for lion products, such as bones, which breeders are permitted to trade, an increased demand will affect lions as they now have value for poachers”.

Other experts have expressed grave doubts on the economic benefits of hunting lions.

Alejandro Nadal – a professor of economics at El Colegio, in Mexico, and a world expert in environmental trade markets and trends – believes that sustainable use will not solve the problem of poverty. “Hunting,” he says, “contributes next to nothing to the country’s GDP, let alone any financial benefit filtering down to rural communities.”

A recently published briefing paper by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that 80% of total annual sales in Africa’s tourist sector come from “non-consumptive” tourism in the form of safaris, birdwatching, trekking, marine encounters, and adventure travel.

The same study reveals that tourism and hunting don’t go together.

Under pressure from the tourism sector, three airlines’ cargo divisions – South African Airways, Emirates Airline and Lufthansa Cargo – have  announced the implementation of  embargoes on transporting sport-hunting trophies.

Australia banned the import of all trophy-hunted lions, while the European Union has just adopted stronger restrictions on trophy imports for a number of big mammals.

The Minister’s persistence with captive-bred hunting may have negative repercussions on South Africa’s much-flaunted tourist industry. Dr. Kat also predicts that South Africa will become “the laughing stock of the international conservation community”.