November 16, 2005

Wildlife Group Takes On S.Africa Predator Breeders

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG -- An investigation has revealed the captive breeding of large predators in South Africa for "canned hunting" is widespread and poorly regulated, an animal welfare organization said on Wednesday.

"Our findings show a clandestine industry that prefers to keep a low profile while turning multi-million dollar profits," the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said.

It described it as "an abhorrent practice that not only provides prey for the 'canned hunting' industry, but also supplies the local and international wildlife trade."

The hunting industry's reputation in South Africa has been sullied by media reports about game breeders who rear lions and other big cats in captivity before releasing them into small enclosures where they are shot as "trophies" by foreign hunters.

Professional hunters say such operators are a small minority and back efforts to stamp out the practice.

A panel of experts on the hunting industry has recommended the government impose a total ban on canned hunting.

But IFAW said it wanted to see all captive breeding operations of large predators shut down on the grounds that most were poorly operated and kept large animals in cramped conditions. There are also concerns about inbreeding and cross breeding between species such as tigers and lions.

"We would rather see a full stop to captive breeding of large predators. If you stop captive breeding you stop the canned hunting and the other nonsense," said IFAW spokeswoman Christina Pretorius.

She said that even if canned hunting were halted captive breeding would continue to supply the lucrative but poorly policed global trade in wild animals.

Pretorius said IFAW had hired a wildlife journalist who made "undercover" visits to many of South Africa's captive breeding centers for large predators.

"All the ones we went to were bad, they paid no lip service to the fundamentals of animal welfare. On one farm there were 120 lions on a 1 km (0.62 miles) sq piece of land," she said.

IFAW also obtained photos and video footage that it said clearly illustrated the mistreatment of large animals.

Pretorius said IFAW estimated that there were between 2,500 and 3,000 lions in captive breeding facilities in South Africa and around 500 cheetahs but provincial government authorities were unable to provide accurate numbers, underscoring the poor state of regulation.