Loves and life on the Garden Route in South Africa

Through the eyes of volunteer coordinator and crazy cat lady, Sharon

South Africa – Days 3 and 4! November 22, 2013

Filed under: knysna,Out & about,volunteering,weekend,youth — shadreyer @ 10:53 am
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Days 3 and 4 of Travellers Worldwide volunteer, Jasmine Burford, in Knysna, South Africa


Back again, and filling everyone in on days 3 and 4! Thank you if you’re still reading!

So, after an exhausting 72 hours, I was looking forward to a lie in. However, at 8.30, my sleep was interrupted (although quite pleasantly) by church bells. The volunteer house is close to 4 churches, but the bells sounded lovely so it was quite a nice alarm clock (which makes a change!) We had nothing planned for the day, but I was adamant I didn’t want to sit around wasting precious time. 

Myself and the three other volunteers decided to get a taxi to Leisure Island which is approximately 5 miles away from Knysna (the town where I stayed). The two are complete polar opposites; Leisure Island has a predominantly white population and it is very wealthy there. The weather was forecast as rain however it was a really warm morning and we…

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Jani writes to Melissa Bachman November 19, 2013

Filed under: animals,conservation,lion,wildlife — shadreyer @ 12:50 pm

Some good facts and stats from Jani Allan

My Grilling Life - Jani Allan


Dear Melissa,

I have to hand it to you.

That pic of you sitting gloating triumphantly behind the huge male lion you killed has gone viral.

I’m not saying that people aren’t admiring your big strong teeth or even your big strong breast implants.

But your timing was all kinds of special. A week after we hear that the western black rhino is officially extinct, you post this picture of yourself on all your social media sites. Now you are front page news in many countries. Even the comedian Ricky Gervais has weighed in. He thinks you are a great hunt. Typo.

When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal. What then do we call a person who shoots a wild animal?

Not for food, or even for their pelt. Just for pleasure.

Help me on this. I want to understand what…

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Canned lion hunting: a necessary evil?

Filed under: animals,conservation,lion,South Africa,wildlife — shadreyer @ 9:11 am
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Canned lion hunting: a necessary evil?

Footage of a hunter killing a lioness in an enclosure with a crossbow recently caused upset. It’s the first video of a canned hunt to surface for years, and comes as the South African government mulls over changes to regulations to protect vulnerable species. But could this industry be a necessary evil to protect wild populations? Aletta Gardner explores the case for and against canned hunting.

Lion hunts are the stuff of legends. I remember being captivated by a particularly entertaining story about the old days when hunting was still allowed in the Sabi Sand game reserve where I spent childhood holidays. Big game hunters worth their salt would certainly have deemed a lion trophy a necessity on their list of things to accomplish. The Maasai tribe of East Africa have traditionally seen hunting these predators on foot with a spear as a rite of passage. So perhaps we should not be surprised that the demand for the experience and the industry which allows a safe, easy way of getting it is still out there. Still, I was.

Who doesn’t remember the outrage caused by the expose on canned lion hunting back in the late 1990s? You could easily be forgiven for believing that the practice was outlawed at the time.

A lion at a Cape reserve. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN.Therefore footage which surfaced recently came as a shock to many. The video of a local hunter inexpertly trying to get a lioness in the crosshairs of his bow and arrow is a difficult one to watch. The animal is clearly fenced in, and behaves wholly unnaturally – making desperate charges at the vehicle, while the hunter fumbles and curses. Ultimately, the animal is hit, letting out a strange roar, before writhing around in the dust, confused and mortally wounded.

It’s easy to get emotional while watching this video. But doing so does not allow us to engage with the debate about canned hunting and the potential threats or benefits to the future of lions in South Africa. While some call it downright cruel, is controlled hunting of captive bred lions possibly a way of ensuring the future prosperity of wild populations?


While doing research for a news piece about the renewed calls for a ban on canned hunting which followed the video’s publication, I was very surprised to learn that there are approximately 2700 wild lions left in South Africa.

I re-checked this several times, feeling sure that it could not be true. But the figure was confirmed by the latest information obtained from the Department of Environmental Affair, which puts the number of wild lions at 2743.

It means there are now fewer wild lions than rhinos.

It also means that the captive population now outnumbers the wild one by as much as double.

This left me with many questions: Where is the hype? What are the implications? And why does the Department of Environmental Affairs say it is not concerned?


I started becoming more alarmed when I found a report released the previous month, led by renowned lion expert Dr Craig Packer from the University of Minnesota, which claims Africa’s wild lions are in serious trouble.

I put this to the department, who reassured me that 70% of South Africa’s wild lions are in protected areas and are doing well, since studies show their populations are stable.

I contacted Dr Packer, who confirmed that South Africa is the exception in his study:

“Unlike the rest of Africa, South Africa’s lions are doing very well. Most populations are close to their carrying capacity, and the recent proliferation of private conservancies has increased the total number of wild lions in South Africa to the highest it has been in the past century,” he told me.

Case closed? Not quite. What I learnt next suggests it’s not the time to rest assured.


For those who are against hunting in principle, canned hunting is particularly problematic: An animal which was raised in captivity is put in an enclosure from which it cannot escape, with the hunter safely in a vehicle. There is a case for calling it unfair and cruel.

But for the Campaign Against Canned Hunting this only as one part of the problem. It suggests that the industry poses a real and direct threat to the future of the species.

How? It argues the “insidious” consequences for Southern Africa’s wild lion populations mean that lion breeding and canned hunting cannot be seen as a separate issue from conservation of wild animals.

Chris Mercer, who heads the campaign, has been calling for a complete ban on canned hunting for 13 years.

He argues that not only are many South Africans wrongly under the impression that the practice was outlawed, but the legal battle which ensued with predator breeders left lions even more vulnerable since they were removed from the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) list.

The reason? The outrage over canned hunting in the late nineties demanded some sort of action from government. The compromise was a 24-month wilding rule – before you could shoot a captive-bred lion it had to roam in a camp with some buck for up to two years. The debate about whether this makes the hunt fair rages on.

According to the Environmental Affairs Department it did not want to delay the protection for other listed large predators when litigation was brought against the minster over this regulation, so it opted to leave lions off the TOPS list temporarily.

But the department’s Thea Carroll insists there are “several legal provisions in place in terms of the national legislation that (do) address activities associated with canned hunting.”

Mercer claims these are merely cosmetic and leave the necessary loopholes for the practice to continue to harm not only animals, but do collateral damage to conservation efforts.

“We think that the captive breeding of lions poses a reckless threat to the survival of wild species in South Africa, and the reason is that people don’t realise the insidious spin-offs from lion farming,” he said.

Mercer explained, “…the Roland Ward trophy book will not recognise trophies from South Africa, because they know that the animals are captive bred and therefore “not real” in hunting terms, (so) resourceful hunting operators smuggle captive-bred lions from South Africa to neighbouring territories where they are hunted.”

This, Mercer claims, leads to those neighbouring countries losing track of the numbers of their wild lion populations, and new hunting quotas being based on erroneous information.

A lioness at a Cape reserve. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN.Another concern is that the industry could inadvertently fuel the lion bone trade by stimulating the demand from Asia and leading to a poaching crisis similar to the one facing rhinos. Mercer said the trade is increasing exponentially.

“We’re tracking it through CITES returns – that’s going to result in wild lions being killed because… the bones are cheaper. Why pay $165 a kilo for bones when you can pay a poacher $10 a kilo for bones?”

The other issue with allowing captive breeding is ensuring healthy genes. Mercer suggests this is sometimes done in underhanded ways.

“Breeders have to keep importing fresh blood in order to combat captivity depression. That means wild lions are being captured (often illegally) and very often being smuggled in over the porous border with Botswana,” Mercer said.

This claim is backed by the African Lion Working Group, who according to a Times Live news report this week fingered South African breeders in capturing wild lions in Botswana to stock their farms.

According to Mercer there is no two ways about it. “…This toxic industry is going to poison the conservation of wild lions.”

The owner of the Drakenstein Lion Park outside Cape Town, Paul Hart, steadfastly believes captive breeding does nothing to aid conservation.

At his facility Hart takes lions rescued from circuses and urban dwellings in South Africa and overseas to live out their lives in peace. They are not allowed to procreate and will never be released into the wild.

Hart believes the large population of captive lions in South Africa “…poses a huge threat to wild populations. Any outbreak of disease or new viral strains in captive populations can effectively wipe out entire wild populations in South Africa.”


The South African Predator Association (Sapa), which represents lion breeders, however flatly denies that its industry does any harm whatsoever to the future of the species.

“The hunting of captive bred lions does not pose any threat to wild lion populations.  On the contrary, it contributes in a real way to the conservation of the wild lion populations,” it told me in a statement.

It concedes to a “disastrous decline” of free roaming lions in Africa, but says “the 6000 captive bred lions represent a significant lion population that cannot be dismissed or disregarded in terms of the survival of the species.  The captive bred population can serve as a healthy gene pool, which may be used in a number of ways to save the African lion. The captive lion industry has embarked on a project to ensure and improve the genetic integrity of its breeding animals.”

It also argues that allowing controlled hunting alleviates the pressure on free roaming populations, and claims that captive bred lions may be introduced into the wild.

“Many conservationists are sceptical about such a possibility, but we believe that it is possible and we are going out to prove it.”

On the issue of the bone trade, it warns that the consequence of banning it may be far more damaging.

“If the legal trade in lion bone is terminated (as was done with rhino horn fifteen years ago) the African lion will meet the same fate as the rhino.  It will be poached to extinction.  If the legal trade is kept open, market forces will ensure that the poaching of wild lion will stay within reasonable parameters.”


Dr. Packer calls canned hunting “a two-edged sword” for lion conservation.

“Most people I know are so horrified by the lion-bone trade that they haven’t seriously considered whether the lion farmers might actually be doing wild lions a favor. From an animal-rights perspective, of course, canned hunting and farming lions for their bones is pretty awful. If someone could squash the demand for lion bones in China, I don’t think anyone would defend the lion farms. In the meantime, they may be a necessary evil.”

A report studying the possible impacts of the captive-bred lion hunting industry in South Africa and the hunting and conservation of lions elsewhere in Africa was released a year ago. It was a joint project between the University of Pretoria, the big cat conservation organisation Panthera, Sweet Briar College in the USA and the University of Cape Town.

It concluded that there are real conservation issues arising from the industry, which include “the probability that the genetics of captive animals are being manipulated” and it flagged “potential impacts on demand for the bones of wild felids, and potential impacts on the demand for wild lion hunts.”

It called for urgent research into the issue of the trade of lion bones from South Africa to identify the potential risks and issues for lion conservation.

According the Panthera, lions are currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species; and in West and Central Africa, the species is now classified as “Endangered.”

It claims that the number of wild lions in Africa has dropped from an estimated 200,000 to fewer than 30,000 in the last century.

Its Lion Program Director Dr Guy Balme warns, “Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger.”

Although it’s not concerned about the numbers, the Environmental Affairs Department says it is in the process of investigating the lion bone trade and that a closer look at the “by-products” of hunting industry are prioritised for this year, although it could not say when it would be finalised.

It adds that a biodiversity management plan for lions is also in the process of development.

The South African Predator Association says it is currently working with DEA to develop norms and standards for the management of captive bred lions.

The public has until 15 June to give input on the proposed new TOPS regulations.

You can send your comments to

Aletta Gardner is a Multimedia Journalist at EWN. You can follow her on Twitter.


Lions in the cross hairs

Filed under: animals,Cats,conservation,lion,wildlife — shadreyer @ 8:30 am
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Lions in the cross hairs

Lions were shot out of the vast majority of South Africa by the early twentieth century. A species that once ranged across virtually the entire country was reduced to the areas now known as Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Since that low point, lions have returned to 47 South African reserves. Lions re-established themselves in two national parks, most recently in 2000 when they recolonised Mapungubwe National Park after crossing from Botswana, and man has reintroduced them to 45 other reserves. Even so, today South Africa has just 3,000 wild lions, twenty times fewer big cats than the spectator capacity of Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium, home of the Lions rugby team.

That is a startlingly low number, given how prominently the species features in the public imagination of the South African bush. With numbers so low, conservation efforts must be concentrated where they are needed most. I wondered, does this include captive breeding?

Captive breeding

There are currently more lions living in captivity in South Africa than there are in the wild. Captive breeders frequently claim to operate in the interests of lion conservation, with the “lion encounter” industry charging tourists to view, walk with and even pet lion cubs. With so much publicity raised by these encounters, there is good reason to believe that the captive breeding industry attracts considerable funds intended for lion conservation. But in reality, the lion encounter industry has more to do with the business of tourism than with conservation.

The Lion Park, located a short drive from Johannesburg, describes itself as “an eco-tourism destination that focuses on the well-being and regeneration of the various species [of predator]. We are neither a game reserve or a Zoo, but rather a breeding ground and sanctuary for important species”.

The Lion Park. Captive lions viewed by captive tourists.

The Lion Park. Captive lions viewed by captive tourists.

I asked volunteer, Ursula Lorentz, why she volunteered to work at the Lion Park, “I’m passionate about conservation. I love lions. I thought this was the best way to help them” she told me. If Ursula’s sole motivation was to help lion conservation, I couldn’t help feeling she’d been duped. She paid €1 295 (around R18,000, US$1,750 or £1,100) for her two week experience, as well as the cost of her international flight.

Put bluntly, lion breeding programmes do not assist conservation. Here’s why: Many reserves in South Africa are currently forced to cull wild lions because they have too many lions for the size of their protected area. There is absolutely no demand for “rehabilitated” captive bred lions. Indeed, every one of the 46 reserves in South Africa where lions have been reintroduced to the wild have been stocked with lion originating from Kruger, the Kgalagadi, or Etosha National Park in Namibia. No captive bred lion has ever been reintroduced to a South Africa reserve.

Dr. Luke Hunter, President of Panthera, the world’s leading wild cat conservation organisation told me “Even though lions are declining and some populations are in trouble, captive breeding for reintroduction is simply not useful or necessary. […] Saving the lion hinges on protecting large, wilderness areas.”

So the real problem is a lack of space.

Space, the real frontier

Other than the lions in Kruger and the Kgalagadi, the lions in the other South African reserves are, and need to be, intensively managed to ensure their long term survival. The reason is that these reserves, which by any ordinary measurement are massive, are still small in lion conservation terms where reserves under 1,000km2 are considered “smaller reserves”. South Africa’s “smaller reserves” are home to some 700 or so lions and because of their size they face an array of management issues as human intervention is required to simulate natural processes.

Unlike other countries on the continent, every South African lion lives behind fencing. This limits the chances of conflict with humans but has negative impacts too. For instance, the fencing prevents sub-adults from dispersing between reserves and is a factor increasing the risk of inbreeding.

So-called smaller reserves also have fewer prides and fewer large nomadic males, meaning reduced or absent competition between males for pride primacy. The reign of males in smaller reserves is substantially longer than in Kruger and the Kgalagadi, where frequent change of pride leader ends with the death of cubs sired by the previous male chief. The population growth rate of lions in smaller reserves is therefore unnaturally and unsustainably higher. If lion numbers are allowed to grow beyond ecological limits, there are obvious impacts for prey species and the long term biodiversity of entire reserves.

A lion being translocated. Copyright Susan Miller 

A lion being translocated. Copyright Susan Miller

Not enough land in South Africa is dedicated to lion conservation to enable a wild population much above the 3,000 we already have. In recent years few new reserves have been established, causing a collapse in the market for lion translocations between reserves. While this remains the case, culling wild lions that exceed the carrying capacity of the reserve is a sad necessity.  In such a case, it is often sub-adults that are culled, simulating emigration that would have occurred naturally if lions had space to migrate away from their pride.

A far more controversial but conservation-appropriate method of controlling lion numbers is culling part of a litter of cubs. In smaller reserves, cubs have an unnaturally high survival rate. This form of culling could therefore simulate natural levels of cub mortality. There would also be a positive knock-on effect that the lioness will not come back into oestrus whilst at least one cub survives, thereby further slowing birth rates. Culling cubs would be a shocking and ethically challenging intervention, but given the limited space dedicated to conservation, drastic interventions such as this are being considered.

South African lions, outside Kruger and the Kgalagadi, live a kind of Truman Show existence. Like Jim Carrey’s character in the famous film, the lions (and most people watching them on game drives) are unaware that their lives in the wild are partially contrived. Each reserve manager knows how many lion the reserve can support, females may be on contraception, and when populations reach certain thresholds individuals will be earmarked for removal.

A lion translocation. Copyright Susan Miller.

A lion translocation. Copyright Susan Miller.

Around 200 wild lions were culled in South Africa between 2010 and 2012. These were not lions bred for hunting but lions on reserves known for photographic tourism. In 2011, at one reserve in the North West, 70 lions were culled. The reserve is over 700km2, but even so it lacked the carrying capacity for the number of lions which had bred.

Real conservation

There is much talk about large scale expansion of reserves and the establishment of wildlife corridors suitable for lions to migrate between reserves. The designation of a third reserve the size of Kruger or the Kgalagadi, which would not require the kind of interventions I’ve discussed above, would be the ideal. But it is exceptionally unlikely to happen. Human population numbers are rising and the demand for land for agriculture and housing is ever increasing, not to mention physical human barriers such as roads. So what other options are there?

Susan Miller, of the Tshwane University of Technology, researches the growth factors and genetics of lion in smaller reserves. She spoke to me about what she regards as the only realistic short to medium term intervention to aid lion conservation. Susan believes the next step is to properly regulate the management of lions outside Kruger and the Kgalagadi as one single population – a metapopulation. Individual reserves would not make lion management decisions alone but as part of a coordinated national scheme for the 47 smaller reserves. As Susan explained, part of the metapopulation approach would be, for instance, to “have four or five regional nodes within which translocations occur more regularly, with less frequent translocation between the nodes.” It would aid the genetic integrity of the metapopulation and also be closer what would happen naturally, with lions migrating to neighbouring areas rather than randomly across the country. The plan is not merely an academic idea; it is being developed by the Lion Management Forum, comprised of both managers of the smaller reserves and scientists. This approach therefore benefits from the input of those with practical on the ground conservation knowledge as well as academics.

While this does not take away the need for intense human intervention, the metapopulation approach advocated by Susan and the Lion Management Forum would assist with lion conservation far better than any captive breeding program.

The extent to which South Africa’s wild lion population is managed might be surprising but it is the only option whilst human land uses mean land set aside for conservation is so limited and fragmented. Anyone uneasy with the extent to which we must manage our lion populations should be clear about the real issue in South African lion conservation: we certainly do not need to breed more lions, we need to monopolise less land.


Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)

Filed under: animals,conservation,elephants,lion,wildlife — shadreyer @ 8:29 am
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Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)

A blog raising awareness of canned hunting


Canned hunting in a nutshell by Chris Mercier

Filed under: animals,Cats,conservation,lion,Nature,South Africa,wildlife — shadreyer @ 8:28 am
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Canned hunting in a nutshell by Chris Mercier

Canned Lion Hunting in a Nutshell


1.      50 years ago an estimated 100,000 lions roamed across Africa.

2.     Lion habitat has declined by 75% since then and lion numbers have dropped to less than 20,000

3.     Only 9 countries in Africa have more than 1000 lions, while Tanzania alone now has 40% of the whole lion population

4.     The African lion is heading for extinction.

5.     Main driver for lion destruction is the reckless breeding habits of Africa’s human population.  For instance, Kenya had a small population of 5 million people at the end of WW2, but that population has exploded to over 30 million.

6.     Human over- population in rural areas means lions are killed routinely to protect livestock.

7.     Trophy hunting is also a major cause of lion numbers declining, especially since the trophy hunter always wants the magnificent pride male, and once he has been removed, pride cohesion breaks down, with competing males killing all the cubs.  It has been estimated that it can take 7 years before that pride can recover fully from the killing of the pride male.

8.     Because hunters have wiped out so many wild lions there is a demand for a constant supply of living targets and lion farming has increased dramatically in South Africa.

9.     In the last fifteen years the number of captive lions in S.A. has increased from almost zero to over 8000.  That is twice as many as there are wild  lions (4000)

10.                      Lion farmers grow out lions for at least three years before they reach huntable size.   To help pay the cost of rearing lions, lion farmers rent out their cubs to be played with by tourists.   And they take in volunteers who pay to be allowed to work at a lion farm (deceitfully described usually as a lion sanctuary)

11.                      What you can do to help the African lion:-

a.     Cub petting.  Do not patronise any tourist resort where cub-petting is allowed.

b.      Volunteers.  Do not volunteer at any facility where breeding of lions takes place.   If there are cubs then it is a lion farm breeding centre.

c.      Write to your MEP.  And ask her to ban the import of African lion/leopard trophies in to Europe.


Information on the disgusting canned hunting

Filed under: animals,conservation,lion,wildlife — shadreyer @ 8:26 am
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Information on the disgusting canned hunting


South Africa – Day 2

Filed under: knysna,Out & about,volunteering,weekend,wildlife,youth — shadreyer @ 7:02 am
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Have to share this Jasmine!


My second day in South Africa was again, incredible! Whilst I was planning my trip, I knew if there was one thing I did culture wise, it would be to ride an elephant. I’d found a sanctuary which was the best place to do it as the other parks are very touristy and there are rumours that they can be very cruel. I guess you never know what goes on “behind close doors” but I’d done my research and made sure I was going to the best possible place. When I arrived in South Africa, however, I wasn’t expecting to fulfil one of my life long dreams (and a huge thing to tick off my bucket list!) on my second day in the country!

I’m not sure how we managed to fit all of this into one day but anyway here goes! So first off, myself and the other volunteers…

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Caramel Caracals November 12, 2013

This is so worth the read. Fiona also lives on the Garden Route although not in my town. I hope these cute babies grow up and get to live in the wild again in a safe enviroment but as they are so young they might need to stay in an animal sanctuary until older and rehabilitated

Fiona Ayerst's Blog

On Saturday I had a chance encounter with three lovely angels. Three wild; caramel coloured; woolly; orphaned caracal kittens of about 4-5 weeks old popped into my life. Their location will remain a secret, as this announcement will most likely not be popular with farmers.


The word caracal is derived from the Turkish words kara kulak, which means, “black ear”.The caracal is the largest African lesser cat and an exceptional climber and jumper. It is slender with long legs and a short, sharply tapered tail. The Caracal resembles a cross between a leopard and a lynx. Its coat is reddish-brown with long and very distinctive tufted ears and white markings around its eyes and on its throat, chin, and belly.In South Africa the caracal is often named (Afrikaans) Rooikat- translated to red cat. The belly and the undersides of the legs and chest are whitish and spotted or blotched…

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Runner up in the Knysna Awards Social Media & Blog award

Filed under: award,Garden Route,knysna,Social Media,South Africa,technology — shadreyer @ 9:20 am

Runner up in the Knysna Awards Social Media & Blog award

Runner up in the Knysna Awards Social Media & Blog award