As many of you will know by now, on 17 November I travelled to Brussels to join a panel of MEPs and campaigners to fight against canned hunting and cub petting.
The evening began at 5pm and as we entered the room I soon realised what I had let myself into. During college and school, I avoided every possible opportunity to partake in public speaking and yet at the age of 21 I agreed to address European Parliament to share my story.
It wasn’t long before I met the amazing Ian Michler – the man behind Blood Lions. We chatted about my campaign and the awful Ukutula Park before taking a photo next to the Blood Lions banner to really piss off Mr and Mrs Jacobs, my biggest fans.
The room soon filled up and everyone settled down for the screening of Blood Lions. This was actually the first time I had seen the film and it was so much better than I had ever imagined it could be. Ian has created an informative and emotional documentary that will pull on the heart strings of even the toughest of people. I found myself welling up as I watched innocent lions being slaughtered by ignorant and ill-informed hunters but this only served to remind me exactly why I put myself through this stress. For those who are unaware of the completely legal canned hunting and cub breeding practices in South Africa this film will shock you to your core. From scenes of dozens of cubs cramped in small dirty enclosures to a hunter shooting a helpless lion six times, Ian displays a perfect method of refuting every single conservation claim made by hunters through a team of scientists and campaigners.
As the film drew to a close I made my way to the front to join the panel discussion alongside Ian Michler, MEP Sirpa Pietikainen, MEP Stefan Eck, MEP Pavel Poc, a member of the European Commission, Catherine Bearder and Pieter Kat. It was hard not to be overwhelmed but as soon as I was asked to speak about my experience the nerves were not a problem. I spoke for around three minutes about my trip to Ukutula Park and how my campaign is aimed at young adults looking to volunteer with lions without knowing the implications of doing so. Each panel member took time to discuss why they were on the panel and what exactly we can do to tackle the canned hunting industry.
Canned hunting and cub breeding is completely legal in South Africa with hunters claiming it aids conservation efforts which of course, is completely untrue. I learnt so much during my trip about just how detrimental canned hunting is to our wild lion population and how if it is not stopped soon, there will be no lions left. The issues of the lion bone trade and wild lion cub smuggling were raised, two aspects of the campaign that I had limited knowledge about. The lion bone trade has grown significantly over the past 10 years as Asian markets are no longer permitted to use tiger bone. Many argue that the lion bone trade is sustainable as long as we permit canned hunting but we are actually creating a far larger problem. The bone is used for Chinese medicines however wild lion bone is considered 30% more ‘potent’ than a captive bred lion’s bones. This means that although you could buy a captive bred lion’s bones to sell to Asian markets, you will get far more money for the bones of a wild lion that you can poach for free.
With regards to cub smuggling, this may create grounds for new legislation. In order to ensure gene pools are constantly updated, wild cubs are smuggled into South Africa for breeding purposes.
The rest of the panel debate included questions raised by members of the audience on topics such as economics and the tourist industry, creating or altering current legislation to ensure lion trophies can’t be imported into the EU, the current status of lions as ‘vulnerable’ as opposed to ‘endangered’ and even the morals of canned hunting from the view of a hunter.
One member of the audience in particular broke incredible news that she had received during the debate which stunned everyone. Segolene Royal, Minister of Environment in France, issued a letter banning the import of lion trophies as the debate was taking place! This is a huge step for conservation efforts and France now join Australia as being the only countries with specific legislation in place to protect lions and this will be an amazing starting point to convince the rest of the EU to follow suit.
Another audience member had some shocking yet amazing news to share with the panel. Matthias Kruse, editor of Jager (the leading German hunting magazine) announced that after seeing Blood Lions, Germany’s leading hunting show will no longer allow the selling of any form of captive or canned hunts. The show will also no longer allow the sales and marketing of any species bred as unnatural colour variations. This is a huge step towards our ultimate goal! If we can convince hunters that canned hunting is an abhorrent practice then we can convince anyone.
As the debate came to an end MEP Sirpa Pietikainen summarised and called for various action points to start the ball rolling. This includes approaching all member states of the EU to watch Blood Lions and to share my story with news outlets worldwide through the European Parliament’s official press release.
The evening was an overall success but it was far from over. As I packed my things I was approached by numerous people who congratulated me on the success of Claws Out and my bravery for speaking out against Ukutula Park. I spoke with Ian again who introduced me to Birgitta Wahlberg. Before I knew it I was being invited to fly to Finland the following morning to partake in another screening and debate but sadly it was too short notice. I was also introduced to a representative from Born Free who insisted I attend the London premiere so I could be introduced to journalists and members of ABTA to pursue my ongoing complaint.
The morning after the event I was invited to attend a meeting between Lion Aid and various MEPs from European countries including Stefan Eck, Keith Taylor and Catherine Bearder. The team at Lion Aid talked us through the different ways in which we can approach tackling canned hunting and we left the meeting feeling triumphant and incredibly hopeful for what is to come.
Since returning to the UK last night I have already been contacted by numerous journalists and I have even recorded a live radio interview with BBC Surrey to share my story and raise awareness. You can listen to my interview here (skip to 1:07). Furthermore, I am now attending two Blood Lions screenings in London and the March for Cecil on 28th November 2015. Read about these events and buy your tickets here.
Lastly, I am so so thrilled to share a report received regarding PHASA’s (Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) stance on canned hunting. Members of PHASA outvoted canned hunting members in AGM to officially distance themselves from the “abhorrent and immoral practise of hunting captive bred lion and other wildlife”. This is a HUGE milestone in the fight against canned hunting and is truly overwhelming. This decision will affect cub breeding parks and canned hunting and the team behind Blood Lions has been credited for this amazing step.
I’m so excited about what the future holds for Claws Out and so proud to be a part of that change that is happening.