Blood Lions, the must-see documentary on canned hunting, debuts in the UK

I am glad I was there to watch it with an audience.

With Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine and then Fahrenheit 9/11, it was Michael Moore who would inspire 21st century documentary filmmakers with a new form, one that focused on a central character immersed in an issue. Others followed him: Morgan Spurlock in 2004 with Super Size Me, Shaun Monson in 2005 with Earthlings, Davis Guggenheim in 2006 with An Inconvenient Truth, Louie Psihoyos in 2009 with The Cove, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite in 2013 with Blackfish – which had a massive impact on animal welfare campaigning.

This year another film was produced that is following the steps of these historical ground-breaking vital pieces of filmmaking, and it just premiered in London last week. Blood Lions is directed by Bruce Young and presented by Ian Michler, a committed activist, environmental photojournalist and consultant, who in this feature-length film compellingly leads the audience through his journey of discovery into a terrible world most people know nothing about.

This powerful documentary exposes the multi-million dollar South African canned lion hunting industry, which breeds lions in captivity for them to be shot by those trophy hunters who want an easier, cheaper and guaranteed kill.

In 2013, close to 1,000 lions were killed by canned hunters.

If we don’t act now, South Africa could well end up in the shameful situation of having over 12,000 large predators in captivity by 2020The film is a collaborative project between a number of committed individuals and organisations that include IFAW. I was lucky enough to be attending the London premiere, organised by the Born Free Foundation. It has premiered in many countries already, always with great success, so the packed audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London attended this one with as much expectation as I did. They and I were not disappointed, as we said to presenter Ian Michler and producer Pippa Hankinson, who were there and able to answer questions in the end.

READ: Ian Michler’s guest blog Blood Lions documentary exposes canned hunting horrors in South Africa

I feel close to this film. Not just because it exposes - with expressive images, compelling arguments, and riveting testimonies - a serious animal issue that people ought to know, which is something I always try to do. I feel close to it because I was alive and awake in summer 2015, and therefore, like everyone else that had a TV or access to social media, I became aware, and outraged, of the tragic end of Cecil the lion, savagely butchered by a Minnesota dentist who wanted a trophy to parade his misguided prowess.

Cecil’s unnecessary suffering and death created a strong reaction all over the world; it has galvanised millions who now feel that something has to be done about trophy hunting. It revealed to the world that approximately 600 wild lions are legally killed by trophy hunters each year, and the latest estimates suggest that there may only be as few as 15,000 African lions left in the wild. It exposed the reality that people may not just pay a lot of money to go to another country to kill a rare and precious animal, but they can do it causing hours of agony to their victims with weapons such as bows that really belong to the Dark Ages.

It showcased the reality of the thin line between legal and illegal hunting and how weak are the claims of those that defend trophy hunting. It awoke the entire world to a dark reality.

I already knew about these things, but I did not know that so many people cared about this as much as I do. This is why hard hitting documentaries as Blood Lions are what we need now. To make us feel even closer to this issue, and to help us to keep Cecil’s spirit going.  

IFAW is opposed to the practice of trophy hunting because of the serious animal welfare and conservation issues it raises. Also, IFAW believes that wildlife belongs in the wild, so wherever and for whatever reason wildlife is kept in captivity, the primary consideration must be for the welfare of the individual animal. Keeping a wild animal captive to be inhumanely killed for sport is not an acceptable form of captivity.

Therefore canned hunting is doubly wrong, as it is a combination of unacceptable captivity and unethical killing - a combination of two practices that do not longer fit the modern values of civilisation and therefore should be abolished. Blood Lions may help to achieve this sooner, and this is not just wishful thinking.

Last week the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) announced that it disassociates with the captive-bred lion industry until such a time that the industry can convince them and the IUCN that the practice is beneficial to lion conservation. The week before, France announced that it has stopped all the import of lion trophies into their country. Things are moving in the right direction.

I am glad I was there to join all those who have not forgotten Cecil, witnessing a masterpiece of audio-visual campaigning that made us feel closer to each other and more resolute to fight this barbarity together.

Now we just have to keep spreading the word.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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