Nica Richards

By Nica Richards

Journalist


Not a fan of hunting lions? Then you’re not ‘truly African’

Conservationists and hunting associations are at loggerheads once again, this time over the appointment of a board member who is in support of the 'ranch hunting' of lions.


The Tourism Business Council of South Africa’s (TBCSA’s) recent appointment of a new board of non-executive directors has, according to conservation body Lion Coalition, the potential to bring South Africa’s already shaky tourism industry to its knees. 

This is because one of the TBCSA’s new board members happens to be the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (Phasa) former president, Dries van Coller. 

ALSO READ: Damning findings further expose canned lion industry 

This may not seem like a contentious issue to the ordinary citizen, but for conservationists, in lieu of Phasa’s stance on captive lion breeding and hunting (also known as canned hunting), this decision does not sit well. 

Lion Coalition steering committee member Linda Park said, in a recent statement, it was “more than a little disconcerting to see that TBCSA have [van Coller] back on their board”.

Plans are well underway to ban the breeding of lions in captivity for tourists to hunt or pet, following the Department of Forestry and Fisheries and the Environment’s announcement on 2 May.

This came after drawn-out discussions by a high-level panel, 62.5% of which ultimately decided the practice of canned hunting and captive breeding of lions was cruel and should be outlawed. 

A blemish on SA tourism 

Lion Coalition steering committee members Park, Humane Society International/Africa wildlife director Audrey Delsink and Blood Lions campaign manager Louise de Waal, told The Citizen that in light of the TBCSA’s board decision, countries and tourists who are against the captive breeding and lion hunting industry “would certainly be concerned and may think twice about supporting South Africa”.

ALSO READ: Government ‘playing with fire’ by refusing to scrap canned lion hunting

“Our tourism industry can’t afford any reduction in tourist arrivals as a result of poor optics.” 

The committee said Phasa was “clinging on to a dying industry deemed morally reprehensible and damaging to brand South Africa”.

Park, Delsink and De Waal suggested Phasa withdraw their support for canned hunting, “as they have done in the past”. 

Phasa’s canned lion hunting and captive breeding stance

Phasa president Pieter Potgieter said the association did not support canned lion hunting. 

“[It] is an illegal activity and morally wrong, it’s like asking us if we support the sale of cocaine.” 

Potgieter said the high-level panel wants to stop “the ranching and hunting of ranch lions in SA which is a legal practice”.

The referral to “ranching” appears to be what Phasa uses to describe lions bred in captivity. 

The concept of ranching does not, however, seem to be the same as canned hunting for Phasa supporters, despite seemingly adhering to the same principles of breeding lions to be killed. 

According to Blood Lions, ranch hunting is a term used by professional hunting bodies to get away from the negativity associated with canned hunting, but is, in essence, the same thing. 

ALSO READ: Public urged to comment on canned lion hunting ban draft policy

Potgieter said Phasa did not want “ranching” of lions to stop, because it formed “part of South Africa’s highly successful wildlife model of private game ownership, which is conserving lions and their genetic diversity”. 

Potgieter said Phasa wanted ranching to be “self-regulated”, based on norms and standards on the hunting of large predators, and even said a number of projects showed that “ranch lions can be released back into the wild where they adapt, hunt and multiply” – a fact Phasa said proved a captive-bred lion’s conservation value. 

Potgieter also said he did not believe canned lion hunting threatened to harm South Africa’s eco-tourism reputation.

Instead, he blamed the country’s “sky-high crime rate” as “the main reason for the negative impact as [a] tourism destination”.

Van Coller ‘persecuted’ 

In a series of emails The Citizen has seen, provided by Van Coller, he said he not only had the support of his peers, the “greater wildlife community” and TBCSA group deputy CEO Blacky Komani, he was being “persecuted by a group of radicals that have vastly different opinions”. 

Van Coller claims he has also received “hate mails and death threats” against himself and his family. 

“The fact that I am willing to serve my industry and contribute to making a difference in society is negated by the uninformed, unqualified and emotional opinions of a few extremists.

“I serve all South Africans and as a director on the board of TBCSA I have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the company, which I do.”

ALSO READ: SA to ban breeding lions in captivity for hunting

Lion Coalition’s statement appeals to TBCSA to reconsider its appointment of van Coller to the board, as the council serves as “a key conduit between the public and private tourism sectors in South Africa and brings a fragmented private sector under the TBCSA umbrella.”

The Citizen only received an email in which Komani from the TBCSA tells de Waal the matter was due to be discussed, and encouraged Lion Coalition to escalate the issue to the Department of Tourism and/or SA Tourism. 

No specific questions asked by The Citizen were answered by TBCSA. 

However, it does not appear as though TBCSA shares the same views as the Lion Coalition, and said in an email The Citizen has seen they “received several request[s] to move him but as a council we have found no reason to do so.”

Scathing comments from hunting community 

In a thread of emails in response to Van Coller’s “attack”, a number of wildlife organisations attacked Lion Coalition.  

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One association chairperson went so far as to say animal rights associations “are not truly Africans and [are] not respecting our embedded culture”.

The chairperson then suggested those against ranched hunting “relocate and join non-hunting cultures”. 

Another wildlife association said activists were only raising Van Coller’s TBCSA board presence to raise funds. 

One email from a Phasa and Van Coller supporter suggested the hunting community start using the term “ranched lion in place of captive bred lion”. 

There are only around 3,000 lions left in the wild or in conservation parks in South Africa.

Last year, it was estimated by Blood Lions that well over 450 captive-bred lion facilities existed in the country, containing between 10,000 and 12,000 predators.