#WORLDLIONDAY: HEART & SOUL – AUTHORS & CONSERVATIONISTS
Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. He campaigns vigorously on wildlife issues and has commissioned two undercover investigations into captive-bred lion “farming” in South Africa. His newly released book “Unfair Game” details his findings about this brutal industry. Here, he provides us with Simba’s story, a story of survival. He says “His name may lack originality but his story is unique. My favourite lion is called Simba and, given his traumatic history, it is remarkable that he is still alive. He has used all his nine lives and perhaps more besides.
Two years ago, after a visit to South Africa, I became determined to expose the horrors of lion farming. There are now some 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa and virtually all of them are destined for a cruel fate.
When they are small, the animals are used for cub petting at tourist attractions. When they are older (perhaps a year or more), they are used for “walking with lions”, again as tourist attractions.
Once they are fully mature, the lions have one of two fates: they are sold to be shot in “canned hunts” in which the lion has no chance of escape in a confined area. Or, they are slaughtered for the bone trade because there is a huge market for products such as lion wine and lion tea in the Far East.
As part of my desire to expose the evils of lion farming, I used undercover operatives, including former Special Forces men. One of them, posing as a trophy hunter, had chosen a captive-bred lion, who was later called Simba, from a “menu” of lions available on the internet. During several eventful months, we discovered that the chosen lion had even been used as the target in a so-called “green hunt” in which the animal is shot with a tranquiliser dart rather than live bullets. Eventually, my undercover team rescued Simba just hours before my first revelations about lion farming appeared over 11 pages of a British newspaper – The Mail on Sunday.
My first undercover operation was called “Operation Simba”. Later it prompted a second, larger investigation called “Operation Chastise”, which also led me to write a book exposing the whole vile industry. Unfair Game was published in the United Kingdom and South Africa earlier this summer to wide acclaim.
In October last year, I flew to South Africa for a poignant and emotional visit: to set eyes on Simba for the first time after he had been found a permanent new home at a secret location in South Africa.
Just six months earlier, aged around 11, he had been maltreated, malnourished and abused. However, when I saw him, he was healthy, happy and safe. One of Simba’s new carers described him as a “real gentleman”, adding: “The great thing is that lions forgive and dare to trust again, and to love unconditionally.” Today Simba has come to symbolise the stance that I, and many others, are taking against the captive-bred lion industry. This appalling trade shames South Africa and must be halted.