The Reality of Trophy Hunting

In the early 1900’s, around 200,000 African lions roamed the entire country, the king of the savannah and of beasts. In 2015, it was estimated that only roughly 20,000 wild lions were left in fragmented subpopulations, losing 43% of this population in only two decades (21 years). (Panthera Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis 1). It is also estimated that 60% of the lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa have declined by 60%. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, lion populations are declared vulnerable, although with fragmented populations, the subspecies Panthera leo leo is critically endangered in West Africa, and Endangered in India.

With the consistent decline of wild lions in Africa, why is there still an ever-pressing desire and demand for game hunts of this vulnerable species?

A canned hunt refers to the shooting of an exotic animal on a game farm or hunting ranch for a guaranteed kill. The animals are sourced from breeding farms that raise cubs from birth, that are typically used in a pay-to-play or cub petting scheme when they are young for extra profit. Once they are big enough to be considered a trophy, they are sold to hunters and shot within the confines of the ranch. These animals have been hand raised by humans, only to be killed where they were raised for a plaque on a wall.

Hunters prefer hand raised animals because they are not afraid of humans and are much easier to shoot. They are also more aesthetically pleasing because they have not had to fend for themselves in the wild. Canned hunted animals come from roadside zoos, backyard breeders, and were once considered someone’s pet. The hunt is conducted in a small enclosure coining the term “canned”, because it is just as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. There is a guaranteed kill, and breeders hand rear animals to ensure they are not afraid of people.

Facilities that raise big cats and other exotic animals for canned hunting usually claim that they are raising the cubs for conservation purposes, and will help wild populations thrive. They will tell stories of orphaned cubs, and coax volunteers and patrons into donating their time and money to help raise the animals. The general public is easily convinced that what they are doing is truly helping the animals have a better life. But the reality is that captive-bred animals cannot be released into the wild due to their negligent breeding, habituation to people, and lack of natural skills to survive on their own. Once they are born into a captive setting, their fate is sealed and can never live wild and free. Babies are almost always prematurely taken from their mothers so they can continue to reproduce. Breeding wild animals in captivity does not help sustain wild populations.

Texas has a lucrative canned hunting industry, with the state being home to approximately 4,000 tigers, more than the 3,820 that are declining in the wild. There are 500 hunting ranches in the state that allow “exotic animal hunts”, and is substantially growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are over 1,000 exotic hunting ranches in approximately 23 states (“Spreading Like a Disease”).

South Africa is also famously known for their canned hunting opportunities, which legally allow the commercial farming and hunting of captive lions. With roughly 160 lion farms within the country, the industry continues to thrive. There are 2,000 lions that roam wild and free in South Africa, but over 5,000 that are held on hunting ranches for this booming hunting business.

Many ranch owners claim to not allow canned hunts on their property but continue to breed lions to fuel canned hunting. They simply sell their lions to other places that perform canned hunts, so they cannot be held responsible for what happens to their lions once they leave the property. They breed for specific traits such as dark manes or white lions because they are more desirable. This causes extreme inbreeding due to the selection of specific traits.

There is a lot of money to be made in this industry, and the animals are treated as a commodity, not a living being. A canned hunt for a trophy lion can make upwards of $50,000. Around 1,000 lions are shot and killed each year in South Africa. Because of the riches that can be made off of lions in captivity, and lack of strict regulation of the trade, the business continues to grow every year.

Unfortunately, other ecotourism opportunities such as lion or cheetah walks are hurting the animals’ conservation efforts as well. Many tourists pay very little to go on a leisure stroll with an exotic cat. Captive bred big cats are heavily exploited for this industry and are never allowed to live a normal life. Some animal welfare activists argue that a live animal is better than a dead one, although public interactions with big cats continues to fuel the captive breeding industry. A dark reality for such a glorified and sought after personal experience. Being able to walk around with and touch a lion is not worth its entire life being trapped in captivity, and prohibiting it from being wild and free.

Due to the declining number of tigers to fuel the Asiatic industry of tiger bone wine, the illegal wildlife industry is turning to the heavy populations of lions to create this pseudo-medicine. Lions that are sold off into the black market are not well taken care of because they are being slaughtered for their bones. Lions that are sold to the canned hunting trade have to maintain a certain level of animal welfare so they are aesthetically pleasing. Lions are worth more dead than alive, whether they are being shot and killed by wealthy hunters or slaughtered for their body parts.

To ensure a bright future for Panthera leo, education and awareness is key in order to take action against the canned hunting and captive breeding industry. The value of a dollar has to be less important than an animal’s life, and there should be no reason why an apex predator should be shot and killed for sport. By supporting the ban on canned hunting and speaking up against the sport, a true difference can be made for these animals. Speak up and be a voice for animals that do not have one. The more people that reach out to the government and do not accept the industry, the more pressure they will have to stop it. Demand a nationwide ban on canned hunting. Do not support places that breed wild animals in captivity for exploitation. Share what you have learned! Together a difference can be made, and it will not happen without a fight.

Resources for How You Can Help:



  1. Barkham, Patrick. “Canned Hunting: the lions bred for slaughter” 3 June 2013. The Guardian.
  2. “Canned Hunting”. Four Paws.
  3. “Canned Hunting”. Big Cat Rescue
  4. Nowak, Katarzyna. “The End of ‘Canned’ Lion Hunting May Be in Sight” 11 March 2016. National Geographic.
  5. “CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting) is a global NGO dedicated to eradicating the practice of canned lion hunting, and its spin-offs”. Campaign Against Canned Hunting
  6. “Canned Hunting”. Peta.
  7. “Spreading Like a Disease”. Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation.
  8. “Captive Hunts”. Humane Society of the United States