Friday, June 08, 2007
Shooting lions in South Africa
The lions drool as they greedily lick the dead horse, savoring the fresh meat like a special treat. Then they gnaw at the horse's side until the belly rips open and the entrails spill out into the enclosure. I can’t take my eyes off the lions feeding as Joe my cameraman zooms in for a bloody close-up.
I’m on location in Vryburg, South Africa, in game hunting country. Our seven-hour, bum-numbing drive from Johannesburg has been rewarded with stunning video of one of South Africa’s oldest canned hunting operations.
This form of hunting is so controversial in South Africa it's difficult finding hunters who'll talk about it, let alone allow a CNN film crew to come along on a hunt.
On a canned hunt, animals you’d normally expect to find in the wild like, lions, leopards and rhinos are either placed in an enclosed space or bred specially to be hunted as trophies.
Animal rights groups say it's unethical and immoral and are campaigning for an outright ban of all trophy hunting in South Africa. The government hasn't gone quite that far, but they have given hunting industry a deadline of February 2008 for ending canned hunting as we know it today.
But the hunting industry is furious at the threatened loss of millions of dollars in foreign revenue.
Lion breeders make around $25,000 and sometimes more for each lion a hunter shoots. The hunter goes home happy, the breeders make money and the local villages are sustained by selling fresh horses and livestock as lion feed.
The lions at Sandhurst Safaris were beautiful -- all 250 of them. Sleek and golden they lived so close to the lodge that in the evening you could hear them roaring into the night.
Each pride has its own enclosure and lives as a family unit. Separated by wire fencing the pens stretch across a huge area. If the wind blows the wrong way you get a unique waft of raw meat and pungent lion coming straight at you.
When a client books in for a hunt, a lion will be released into the grounds a few days in advance. Then it's up to the hunter with the help of his trackers to find and shoot his trophy.
John Foster, a hunter from Boise, Idaho, said I could join him on his hunt and include him in my story.
Ten minutes after jumping on a truck our tracker found lion prints. It was a small lion the tracker said but John passed on it, he was after a big trophy. Joe the cameraman looked relieved, he’s scared of dogs so I’m glad that we didn’t have to go crawling through the long grass hunting a big cat.
After two days on safari we packed up and drove back to Johannesburg. Sandhurst Safaris sent me a text the next day, John had bagged two lions.
Of course I’m kicking myself for not staying that extra day and getting that footage on tape, but Joe was happy. Filming lions feasting on a dead horse was enough for him.
Watch my report
-- From Femi Oke, CNN International Correspondent
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