This last weekend, 'Carte Blanche' - a popular investigative television show highlighted the lion breeding industry in South Africa and questioned whether what they were doing added anything to this threatened species.
Among the shocking visuals was one of workers manhandling captive-bred lions and the even worse video of a canned lioness being shot in front of its cubs. And it posed a very important question around the ethics of the industry itself - one which is rife with irregularity and irresponsible role-players.
But perhaps the most important issue raised was the dire situation of wild lions in South Africa and the fact that there are now fewer wild lions in this country than there are Rhino - a species that has attracted world-side attention and support in recent years. It is estimated that in the whole of Africa, less than 20 000 wild lion still roam free, and in South Africa this figure is apparently less than 1300! Lion are being decimated through hunting, reduced roaming areas, conflict with farmers and even in-breeding, and some defend captive breeding initiatrives as a source of 'new' stock.
The truth is not that simple. Introducing captive-bred Lion into the wild is not as easy as it seems. Firstly, captive-bred Lion are imprinted by their human handlers and this makes them less likely to hunt or integrate with existing colonies. Secondly, the emergence of a new male will lead to conflict within the pack and leadership fights that ultimately lead to the death of an entire generation of cubs when the newcomer wins. While there are examples of successful integration in programmes in India and some African protected areas, integration remains a risk-filled process.
But perhaps the most impotant debate around captive-breeding is the unethical practice of canned lion hunting. Although outlawed in South Africa, the law in itself is wide-open to interpretation and the practice continues - albeit under a different face. That the king of the animal world is reduced to some trophy-hunter's ego reflects badly on us as humans.
So we ask - do Lion breeders add anything to stop the decline of the species? Unfortunately not in our opinion.