Billionaire businessman Lord Michael Ashcroft says thousands of lions are bred in South Africa only to be shot dead by tourists and game hunters or have their bones sent overseas.
The philanthropist’s new book, Unfair Game: An Exposé Of South Africa’s Captive-Bred Lion Industry, was published on Tuesday and includes his “full revelations” after two undercover operations.
There are an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa, quadruple those in the wild.
In a graphic film released to accompany his latest book, Ashcroft explains the “truly shocking examples of brutality and illegality” witnessed by his team after they infiltrated the industry.
He hired undercover operatives including former members of the UK’s Special Forces who based themselves in South Africa for months to collect information and evidence.
“Thousands of lions are bred in captivity to satisfy the market for hunting trophies and to supply bones to the market for so-called medicines in China and the Far East,” Ashcroft said.
“My team successfully infiltrated the dark and dangerous lion industry – a grim business mired in corruption with links to major organised crime networks.”
He said the cruel trade represents “one of the worst crimes against nature” he’s ever heard of.
His book includes details surrounding the shooting deaths of 54 lions in two days on one farm before they were skinned.
Footage taken from April 2019 shows instances of horrific animal abuse including a drugged lion being hunted by a pack of dogs in an enclosure and a sedated lion being executed underneath a blanket in the back of a truck.
Another part of the film, from a “holiday ranch”, shows a lioness being shot while up a tree.
“In an act of barbaric cruelty, she is then shot on the ground a further nine times in seven minutes,” Ashcroft says.
On the same ranch, lion cubs are kept in “filthy conditions” while adult lions are bred for their bones.
Ashcroft says an adult tiger skeleton is worth up to $US20,000 while an adult lion skeleton can fetch $US4000.
“Because of this price difference, it’s common for lion bones to be passed off as more expensive tiger bones,” he says.
Ashcroft says sometimes the skin is left on one bone so the whole shipment, which includes lion bones, can be sold as coming from a tiger.
Bones from big cats “command big prices” from countries including China, Ashcroft says.
“Where they are used in pills and potions which absurdly claim to be aphrodisiacs or to give those who consume them greater strength,” he says.
Ashcroft also suggested the trade of farmed lions poses a “serious global health risk”, particularly after the coronavirus pandemic.
“Experts have told me of their belief that a major public health incident will occur in South Africa and Asia as a result of the lion bone trade,” he says.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said the risk relates to the “zoonotic diseases” carried by lions.
Ashcroft’s first investigation, published in the Daily Mail last year, exposed the “hideous phenomenon” of canned hunting and his team’s success in saving one of the lions, Simba, before he was executed.
Canned hunting is when lions are bred in captivity then drugged and released into an area where they are shot by a tourist who has paid thousands of dollars.
He claimed wealthy clients were emailed “menus of lions” to choose which one to slaughter.
“It is not so much a chase as an utter farce,” Ashcroft wrote.
“The photos of people standing triumphantly over these wretched beasts once they are dead are sickening.”
Ashcroft wants the South African government to ban captive-bred lion farming but hasn’t received a response.
“The case for a uniform nationwide hunting law, as opposed to individual laws that currently exist in each province, should also be made,” he says.
He said he will donate all royalties from his book to wildlife charities in South Africa.