Thousands of lions in South Africa are being 'bred for the bullet', says a safari operator who has exposed the disturbing facts behind lion hunting in Africa.
Safari operator and environmental writer Ian Michler has exposed the fact that many lion cubs in South Africa are being taken from their mothers and sold for trophy hunting, with the practice being partly funded by people who believed they are donating to lion sanctuaries.
He is the narrator of the new documentary, Blood lions: Cubs to the slaughter, which details how thousands of lions are bred in captivity, packed together in small cages until they are fully grown, then shot by foreign hunters who take them home as a trophy.
Speaking to Nine to Noon this morning, Mr Michler said there were thousands of lions held in captivity like this, three times as many as the 1500 lions living wildly in South Africa.
He said the lions were bred in confined spaces purely for the purposes of trophy hunting.
"They're tame, human-imprinted cats that then get moved into a larger area when the big, brave hunter comes. I have no idea what these trophy hunters tell their friends back home, all I can tell you is these are hand-reared, tame animals, and they are shot in confined areas."
Listen to Kathryn Ryan speak to Ian Michler on Nine to Noon here:
Mr Michler - who works as a safari operator, specialist wilderness guide, consultant and environmental photojournalist - has lived and worked across Africa for the past 25 years.
He said another major issue with the practice of raising lions for hunting led to a lot of inbreeding, especially when the businesses tried to create the coveted white lions.
"This means that in captive conditions, the gene pool is completely contaminated."
Hunting was the most obvious revenue stream, but Mr Michler said the businesses also made money from allowing tourists to pet and play with the animals when they were cubs, offering gap year students opportunities to work on the farms for US$2000 a trip, and shipping off lion bone to Asia, where it was used in traditional medicines.
He said the practice was partly funded by people who thought they were donating to sanctuaries, and said it was a "complete lie".
"It's fraudulent marketing. What I think is happening is the breeders and the hunters and the petters understand now that the media and conservationists like myself and many other people are on to what they are doing. So they are trying more and more to come up with justifications as to why their particular facility is still legitimate."
Images from Blood lions: Cubs to the slaughter: