95. Wildlife in a can.

Just a short post today. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I read the best story in the news today. A zoo in China got bust trying to pass a dog off as a lion. Even better, the visitors only cottoned on to the deception when the lion started barking




It’s a funny story. But I get it. If you have grown up under a repressive communist regime, your exposure to the world may be understandably limited, and the “lion” in question was not a bulldog with a rug tied around its neck. It was one of these;

She wouldn't be so brave if that lion had any eyes.

She wouldn’t be so brave if that lion had any eyes.

Which seems a little more convincing. It’s a Tibetan Mastiff, and as dogs go, it’s pretty damn big, up to 80kg. And it has a mane. But it’s still less than half the size of a lion.

What really amazes me is that the zoo couldn’t find themselves a proper lion, because lions are a dime a dozen. They did, in their defence, claim that they had a proper lion, but it had gone in for a service, and they were just keeping the mastiff in its cage for “safety reasons”. Their story was only slightly undermined by the fact that their snake exhibit consisted of two large rats, and their leopard was in fact a white fox.

In the wild, lion cubs are disposable. It’s one of those weird statistical facts, but over periods of tens of thousands of years, every animal on the planet has an average of one successful offspring. If this wasn’t the case, the world would be drowning in rabbits, or lemmings, or giant salamanders.

I'm not saying that would be a bad thing.

I’m not saying that would be a bad thing.

There are periods when this isn’t true. There are plagues and famines. Rabbits and cane toads invade Australia. Flies and frogs invade ancient Egypt. But then everything settles down again, and we go back to one. Things are in a bit of a downswing at the moment, because we’ve decided to kill everything, but once we are gone, the world will go back to one each again.

And so to the disposable lions. Lionesses start breeding at about four years. They have one to four cubs per litter, and keep having litters until they get too old, at about ten years or so. That’s a lot of cubs. And then the cubs start dying. They starve, because lions aren’t good at sharing food. They get killed, by snakes, jackals, hyenas, leopards, and most of all, other lions. 80% of them don’t see the age of two.

How depressed are you right now?

How depressed are you right now?

This all changes when you breed them in captivity. Then all of the cubs live, barring the odd veterinary issue. If you have a breeding pair of them, soon you will have a lion army. That zoo in China obviously wasn’t trying very hard. The real problem is finding something to do with all those lions.

And here, at least, we have come up with a solution. An ugly one. A shameful one. Lions in Africa are a huge draw-card for tourists. There are far fewer wild places than the Discovery Channel would lead you to believe, so people are setting lions up in places that are not wild. And the cubs just keep on coming. So we shoot them.

Nobody sits at the edge of a lion cage and picks off the cubs with a machine gun. That would be a waste. Instead, we have come up with a charming new (or not so new) concept called “canned lion hunting”.

Nope. If only.

Nope. If only.

It’s as ugly as it sounds. It works like this; cubs are raised in captivity. They are nurtured and cared for and grow completely habituated to human beings. Then, when they come of age, they are released into the “wild”. The “wild” is a patch of bush not nearly big enough to support a wild lion pride. The lion lives there for a while, and then some big, brave man, or woman or, alarmingly, child, comes out and “hunts” it.

Yay! You win at parenting!

Yay! You win at parenting!

It’s like shooting a cow in a farmer’s field. Or a horse. Or a goat. Big, brave men. But here’s the terrible thing; they are solving a problem, and the money is rolling in. It’s not just the problem of what to do with all those lion cubs. It’s the problem of wildlife.

Wild places in Africa tend to be fenced, and managed. And managing vast, wild areas takes money. Which matters in hungry, underdeveloped places like Africa. So wildlife has to make money. Tourism takes care of some of that. And so does canned hunting. And if that means some rich stockbroker needs to put a bullet into someone’s pet goat-lion so that he can feel like Hemmingway for a day, maybe that’s a deal that’s worth making, even though the world Hemingway lived in is gone.

Although it is still super romantic.

Although killing lions is still super romantic.

There’s just one more thing to think about when you look at canned hunting. Hunters don’t want to kill just any lions. They want to kill male lions in their prime. Lions that will look really cool on the wall of their den back home. Lions that make you look bigger, and braver, and manlier. In the wild, those would be pride males.

Beautiful! I we killed it and nailed its head to a piece of wood, it would really fix the shui in our guest bathroom.

Beautiful! If we killed it and nailed its head to a piece of wood, it would really fix the shui in our guest bathroom.

Pride males serve a very specific purpose. They are there to protect the pride. All those stories about lionesses doing all the work and males reaping the spoils are just nonsense. Males help when it comes to hunting big animals like buffalos and giraffes. They protect the pride from hyenas. But most of all they protect the pride from other male lions.

Shoot a wild lion in its prime and you are depriving a pride of its protector. When a pride male dies, the balance of power shifts. Other males will move in. They will kill or drive off any remaining pride males, and then any members of the pride that aren’t adult females. Shoot a wild lion in its prime, and you’re killing a whole bunch of lions. Big, brave men.


So maybe it’s better to let those guys (or girls, or children) shoot goat-lions. It’s not much worse than killing cows to make hamburgers, and it leaves the wild animals in peace.

Sorry. This was supposed to be a quick post about cheeky Chinese zoos. Oh well. I must be off now. I’m going to go and start a zoo. It’s gonna be cool. There will be reindeer.


There will be giraffes.


There will be parrots.


There will be tigers.


There will be elephants.


There will even be pandas.


There won’t be any lions, though. This zoo isn’t going to pay for itself.


59 thoughts on “95. Wildlife in a can.

  1. narf77 says:

    Earl has put an order in for a Giant Salamander for Christmas. Just a moment Mr 23Thorns, the Australian rabbits and cane toads never settled down! They are just in somewhat more manageable plagues and as one of them is edible they are even tolerated. The cane toads are ripe for some entrepreneur to find a “clean green” use for and then we can stop complaining about you South African’s dumping your pest species on we poor innocent wide-eyed Aussies as “Problem solvers” and use them to keep our economy somewhere elevated from that of Spain, Greece and Ireland. By the way…you can’t have them back then…fair does.
    The last post was about Hyenas, a close cousin to Earl. This post is about Lions, apparently a close cousin to our chooks after reading their bio. I can’t see a big game hunter wanting to head out to the Lowveld and plug a prize wild chook but canned farming is about as good for the world as canned hunting is and it’s just another way that we humans diminish ourselves in increments. You remember that monkey with a typewriter? Let me refresh you…”Three monkeys hitting keys at random on typewriters for an infinite amount of time will almost surely produce Hamlet” again, fiction or not, the insolence of humanity using nature for its own cause and effect. I have a mathematical theorem that I would like to apply for a grant to study. I say give the monkeys some guns, let them loose amongst the canned hunters and lets just see how many of them it takes to clear out the problem…Anyone want to donate to my thesis?

  2. As sad as it is, there is a time and a place for animal culling. We’ve had kangaroo culls during the drought which is unpleasant but life ain’t all roses. I can also understand that these parks need to make money to survive and care fo the animals therein but this is just disgusting. Killing should NEVER be made into a sport. And certainly not with trophies.
    Once again a brilliant post. Maybe not a happy one, although funny at times, but brilliant none the less.

    • 23thorns says:

      We have trouble brewing with our elephants. they used to be culled regularly, but that hasn’t happened for over a decade, and they’re slowly but surely becoming a problem. It’s a hugely emotive issue, especially when the world at large thinks they’re being poached to extinction.

      • I would have thought they were endangered if not for a TED talk I saw a while back about desertification. I guess some of the world reckons we Aussies ride kangaroos to work 😉 and probably has a big issue with us culling them too. I guess local information greatly helps in the understanding of local affecting issues.

      • Sounds like you are one of the trophy hunters or one of the many companies who make their money at it. Did you not know that 35,000 elephants were slaughtered last year. Or should I say murdered? 95% of African lions are gone, and sub-species of tigers and rhinos are now extinct, and giraffes and zebra are trophy hunted even by helicopter – see the vid “Africa’s Trophy Hunting Shame” on Youtube.

      • 23thorns says:

        Nope. Not guilty. But I have spent enough time around wildlife to understand that conservation is incredibly complicated. Elephant poaching has made an alarming comeback over the last few years, and there are countries where they are in very real danger of becoming locally extinct. But there are countries which are dealing with a very different issue. South Africa’s largest reserve is the Kruger National Park. Ecologists (not trophy hunters) have calculated that the carrying capacity of the reserve is about 7000 elephants. At the moment, there are 20 000 of them. That is simply too many. Elephants are destructive feeders. They are reducing the number of old growth trees in which endangered birds like ground hornbills breed, and consuming the rank grassland in which creatures like Roan Antelopes live.
        The problem comes from the fact that these reserves are fenced. The elephants have nowhere else to go. The people charged with managing these areas could leave the elephants to find their own natural balance within these fenced areas, but they would do so at the expense of countless other species.
        There is no easy answer. They have considered moving some of the elephants, but there aren’t many places to move them to. They have experimented with birth control, but early attempts have proved unsuccessful (there are some promising new techniques being tested). The culling I mentioned is simply not an option- no government in its right mind would announce to the world that they were slaughtering 10 000 endangered animals.
        I share your distaste for trophy hunters. I simply cannot understand what motivates them. And they are certainly not the answer to the problems I have outlined. But I will point out that reducing wildlife issues to simple numbers is not realistic. Managing ecosystems (and that is what we have to do since we bound nature up in fences) is no simple task. The only consolation I can offer you is that for the people involved with the difficult task of doing so do so out of love for wildlife, not the desire to destroy it.
        If you wish to gain more insight into the real issues involved, try googling “elephant population in the Kruger Park”.
        But I’m with you on the trophy hunter thing. Those guys are assholes.

  3. mariekeates says:

    I guess the problem of too many lions just shows what happens when we interfere. What a waste of lions though, couldn’t they just send them to that zoo in China? Maybe they could send the lion hunters too, I’m sure the lions would need feeling at some point after all 🙂

  4. albertine says:

    Another of those quandaries where we have no control. We can drown our sorrows in beer, though, so I am sending you and mrs23 another one. Sorry mate – that’s the best I can do.

    • Thank you so much! I’ve gone for a cider and I’m enjoying it on a beautiful and sunny late winter’s afternoon. The temperature must be about 20 (Celsius), the sky is cloudless and blue, a shrike is nipping down from the razor wire fence to catch passing insects, kids are happy, 23 is happy and there hasn’t been a gunshot heard for literally hours 🙂 It really is paradise without the guns and, of course, with a cider!

    • 23thorns says:

      It was delicious. And I had to get one or two more to make sure those sorrows stayed under. Thank you kindly.

  5. Art Brûlant says:

    ‘Nuff said! “Things are in a bit of a downswing at the moment, because we’ve decided to kill everything, but once we are gone, the world will go back to one each again.”

  6. Lyn says:

    I say put all the “canned lion hunters” and those who run the business in an enclosure with no weapons and let the lions loose.

  7. choppy123 says:

    Oh….. it started off so funny, then it went all sad 😦 It could only happen in China (the lion dog) unless anyone knows differently 🙂

  8. dste says:

    Chiming in with everyone else here: That is so horrible! Why? Just, why?

  9. billgncs says:

    what a sad post — does this help reduce poaching ?

    • 23thorns says:

      No. Lions aren’t endangered. what it does do is bring money into the wildlife industry and give the proper wild lions a chance to live out their lives unmolested. But it’s still pretty ugly.

  10. beebeejaybee says:

    maybe I missed something but, where’s post 95?????

    Points for trying China!

    amazing the things that are done for wildlife protection

  11. sheenmeem says:

    Loved what you wrote.was feeling sad at the end though. I don’t see the fun in shooting goat lions. Who they try to fool with their supposed bravery? They can make the world a better place to live in with their money. Thank you for the writing.

  12. Sad but not surprising. Having spent much of my life hunting other armed men, I am constantly surprised that so many people thinks it’s macho to play sports or hunt innocent animals.

  13. Buzzwordz says:

    P.s. way to make everyone cry!

  14. Buzzwordz says:

    Nooooo!! Only 4 more posts. Damn you 23 thorns, damn you!

  15. sisteranan says:

    Sorry, i’m too angry now to write a legible reply. * writes ad for shoot-a-canned-hunter safari where all the animal heads remain in the wild…

  16. Mary Southon says:

    what a disgraceful practice. it makes my skin crawl.

  17. johnjroberts says:

    You’re gonna make Ted Nugent mad.
    And here’s a few more animals for collection:.

  18. holmesr64 says:

    How Pythonesque…

  19. Krissy says:

    That disgusts me! The lion in the can thing I mean. I think it’s rather funny that the zoo tried to pass a dog off as a lion. Silly zoo keepers. Do your jobs…

  20. simonhlilly says:

    Mouth full of tough irony. Nailed!

  21. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Oh lor. Thank you for ending on a cheerful note. I’m starting to dislike humanity as a whole more and more, but at least we can be silly, and funny.

  22. Marcia says:

    Okay, now I’m sniveling on my keyboard, instead of spewing Earl Grey all over it. And it started off so funny, too. What a sad mess we make of things sometimes, especially when you consider that a fair portion of us actually do mean well.

    I didn’t even like shooting big game when Hemingway did it. (Maybe that’s why he’s my least favorite author of that era. And several other eras, too.) I sure as hell don’t like it now. The unfairness of shooting nearly tame lions breaks my heart. And shooting pride lions not only endangers the welfare of the pride that’s there today, it weakens the gene pool by eliminating any future offspring of the successful males killed.

    Nature kills by culling the herds (or packs or prides) of the old, the weak, the sick, the dying, or in some cases the very young, before much expenditure has gone into raising them. But the old, sick and dying don’t make good trophies. It’s disgusting. I swear, if I were looking for a husband (thankfully I’m not), and I walked into a home with the walls covered in trophy heads, I would leave a cloud of dust behind me as I raced back out the door.

    Hunting for food is one thing. Hunting for fun and for trophies is a whole ‘nuther kettle of dead animals. Just my thoughts, for what they’re worth. (Next time I’m stickin; to the funny stuff. :D)

    • Mary Southon says:

      I’m crying with you, Marcia. It was horrifying to see those pictures.

    • 23thorns says:

      Oops! Sorry to bring you down like that; I’m going through a bit of a grumpy, preachy phase. Hopefully it will pass.
      I hope the editing is going well; I see you’re posting a little more again…

      • Marcia says:

        First of all, you are not sorry. (And if you really are, you shouldn’t be.) Grumpy phase or not, this is something you felt strongly about and wanted us to know about, and rightly so. Maybe it can’t be helped today, but nothing gets fixed if no one speaks up. Good on you for telling us, and so what if it makes us snivel as we sit in our air-conditioned homes in blissful ignorance? And as always, you managed to add some humor to the post, as well . . . a spoonful of sugar to make the ugly truth go down. I think it was a great post.

        The editing is done! Thanks for asking. And the comments have come in from my beta readers who enjoy romantic suspense–some of whom are actually unknown to me and relatively unbiased–and they are very positive, so I’m excited about the next step. I plan to have the book published in a matter of a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed. Thanks for asking. Now. About your book. I’m still waiting…………..and I’m not getting any younger, here!! 🙂

      • 23thorns says:

        Good luck! If you make it big, remember me in your will. That way I don’t have to bother with my book- I can live off yours.

      • Marcia says:

        If you want to live off my book, 23, you better not wait until the Will is read. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to bequeath you my fortune in payment for all the laughs you’ve given me. But the thing is, I plan to spend it all BEFORE I croak. 😀

        I have modest goals, though. I just want to make enough to pay the electric bill each month. So spending it all might not be a real big problem.

        Therefore, in consideration of the above, may I just suggest you get busy and write, Funny Man!!!

      • 23thorns says:

        How selfish! Our ancestors survived for millions of years without electricity. That money should be going to me. Me me me!

      • Marcia says:

        Oooh, the “Me Me Me Chorus.” Are you sure you aren’t living in America? I hear this song everywhere I go these days. Hang on. Was that political? Hmmm. Possibly. Never mind. As you were, soldiers.

        Now back to you, 23. If I can write a little ol’ romantic suspense novel in my advanced old age and publish it, all by myself, surely you can take your youthful vigor, abundant talent, and droll wit, and write your dang book, already! I want to own it! I have saved a spot on my shelves for it. Tick-tock, tick-tock. No more excuses. Just DO it.

        There. Lecture over. On with the Show. 🙂

  23. colemining says:

    Great post. Sad about the little lions who die of (relatively) natural causes but completely disgusted by this ‘canned lion hunting’. I can’t even imagine the cowardice required to shoot a lion who has been raised around and become accustomed to humans. Ugly indeed.

    • 23thorns says:

      Yep. I can understand the existence of the industry. People do some very nasty things for cold, hard cash, so maybe farming lions isn’t the worst thing in the world.
      What I will never understand is the guys who pay to come over here and pull the trigger.

      • sisteranan says:

        well, remember those horrible crawly little boys that used to pick the wings off flies and such, and we all said ‘They’ll grow out of it?’ Unfortunately, they didn’t… they just got more money.

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