Has the recession driven the world mad? I think so.
Koos Hermanus would rather not give names to the lions he breeds. So here, behind a 2.4-metre high electric fence, is 1R, a three-and-a-half-year-old male, who consumes 5kg of meat a day and weighs almost 200kg. It will only leave its enclosure once it has been "booked"' by a hunter, most of whom are from the United States. At that point the big cat will be set loose in the wild for the first time in its life, 96 hours before the hunt begins. It usually takes about four days to track down the prey, with the trophy hunter following its trail on foot, accompanied by big-game professionals including Hermanus. He currently has 14 lions at his property near Groot Marico, about two and a half hours by road west of Johannesburg.
After the kill Hermanus will be paid $10,000, but he can boost his earnings further by selling the lion's bones to a Chinese dealer based in Durban. At $165 a kilo (an average figure obtained from several sources) the breeder will pocket something in the region of $5,000.
If his client does not want to keep the lion's head as a trophy, the skull will fetch another $1,100. "If you put your money in the bank you get 8% interest," he explains, "but at present lions show a 30% return."
30% return on lion? And wait a minute. Hunting?
Moreson ranch is one of more than 160 such farms legally breeding big cats in South Africa. There are now more lions held in captivity (upwards of 5,000) in the country than live wild (about 2,000). While the owners of this ranch insist they do not hunt and kill their lions, animal welfare groups say most breeders sell their stock to be shot dead by wealthy trophy-hunters from Europe and North America, or for traditional medicine in Asia. The easy slaughter of animals in fenced areas is called "canned hunting", perhaps because it's rather like shooting fish in a barrel. A fully-grown, captive-bred lion is taken from its pen to an enclosed area where it wanders listlessly for some hours before being shot dead by a man with a shotgun, hand-gun or even a crossbow, standing safely on the back of a truck. He pays anything from £5,000 to £25,000, and it is all completely legal.
When in America, can burgers be far behind?
One of the first lion meat cases evolved in 2010, when an Arizona restaurant served up lion meat burgers in honour of the South African football World Cup. It sparked criticism—and drew in a fresh set of patrons, eager to try the gamey meat.
Most recently, lion popped up in some pricey tacos in Florida, and on even pricier meat skewers in California. Various gourmet clubs specifically aimed at daring eaters have also found inspiration in the trend. "It's been this quirky situation from time to time; every six months or so you hear 'lion meat tacos,'" says Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC, and a wildlife trade expert with the WWF.
First, that the sale and consumption of captive-raised lion meat is totally legal in the US. Shelly Burgess, team leader for food, veterinary, and cosmetic products at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said, "Game meat, including lion meat, can be sold as long as the animal from which it is derived is not on the endangered species list"—and the African cat is not, though conservation groups are currently petitioning for it to be listed there.
And what goes with lionburger? Why, lion bone wine, naturally.
In China, lion bones are soaked for a variable period in rice wine, whereas in Laos and Vietnam the bones are made into a “paste” with added ingredients like herbs (some reports say opium is also mixed in). The paste is then also dissolved in rice wine.
Vicisti, Guerrero. I give up.