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Africa's lions under threat

But critics say lion hunting benefits African countries, generating $200 million annually.

But if lions are declared endangered in the United States, this would also affect captive-bred lion breeders in South Africa, an industry that is said to employ 5,000 people. “It would have a huge effect on our industry,” said Carel van Heerden, the association’s chairman.

In December, van Heerden’s association won a court ruling to allow the hunting of captive-bred lions released into the wild a short time before they are killed, ending a law that had required that lions must roam free for two years after their release.

However, Dereck Joubert said that the economic impact of lions becoming extinct in Africa would be much greater than that of ending lion hunting, because it would affect the tourism — a huge industry in many African countries.

And while he agreed that captive-bred lions are separate from the wild population, he said there are ethical and spiritual reasons to oppose “canned hunting.”
“This is just a slaughtering industry,” said Joubert. “You might as well go to an abattoir and shoot a cow — it’s that easy.”

The Jouberts also argue that canned lion hunting contributes to the trade of lion parts, used as "muti" in traditional southern African medicine as well as in Chinese medical practices.

Animal Rights Africa said that it is concerned about the hunting of free-ranging wild lions that cross from national parks into private reserves where they can then be shot.

“We would be elated if that legislation would be passed,” said Smit, the group’s spokesman. “The American hunting industry has a big role to play in what happens in South Africa. It would mean that a lot of people that are relying on the American dollar would be less inclined to stock up on the numbers of lions that they do.”

All profits from the film "The Last Lions" are going to National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, which supports conservation projects in Africa.

“The life of lions is already hard enough in the wild,” said Beverly Joubert.

“This is a time for everybody to get behind a single effort, otherwise we will lose those lions,” said Dereck Joubert. “We’ve got five years to do this and we need everybody’s help.”