April 29, 2019 | 7:52pm
| Updated April 29, 2019 | 8:12pm
Thousands of lions are being raised in sickening breeding farms so they can be gunned down by wealthy trophy hunters.
Other big cats are being slaughtered just so their bones can be turned into “medicines” after being sold to dealers in the Far East.
The revelations come after a yearlong investigation into the callous industry headed by UKL politician and philanthropist Lord Ashcroft.
His probe discovered some of the lions are even being targeted inside fenced enclosures by wealthy trophy hunters.
The “canned hunting” industry is so despicable that even other hunting organizations want to distance themselves from it.
Among the shooters are Brits who are paying thousands for the “privilege” to kill the magnificent beasts, reports the Mail on Sunday.
Those that aren’t shot by the heartless hunters are butchered in slaughterhouses for their bones – used to treat ailments like rheumatism.
Besides the bones, other body parts are in great demand as the animal represents strength and bravery, which are believed to be transferred to the patient.
The Global Nature Fund estimates more than 1,000 lions are killed annually for the burgeoning bone trade, including many in South Africa.
Lord Ashcroft has now hit out at the British government over its failure to ban the import of trophy skins – a booming industry worth tens of millions of pounds a year.
His shocking investigation revealed:
- Clients are emailed photos of captive male lions so they can choose which one to kill
- Hunters pay up to £42,300 ($54,000) for their kill depending on the size and quality of mane
- More than 50 lions were killed for bones at one so-called “eco-farm” in just two days
- A Brit was filmed shooting an exhausted lion with tranquilizer darts in an illegal hunt
- Lions were kept in squalid cages before being slaughtered in appalling conditions
- Tourists are unwittingly encouraging the horrific trade by paying to play with cubs
Operation Simba discovered there are now an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa – outnumbering wild ones in the country by almost four to one.
The cubs born in the more ruthless farms are taken away from their mothers at just a few days old to be hand reared.
As the lions become too dangerous to be allowed near tourists some are supplied to South Africa’s burgeoning “trophy hunting” industry.
Lord Ashcroft told the Mail on Sunday: “My year-long probe lifts the lid on barbaric and illegal practices at the heart of South Africa’s deeply shameful lion trade.
“The investigation, exclusively revealed in The Mail on Sunday today, shows how up to 12,000 lions bred in captivity are destined either to be shot by wealthy hunters – in what is often a pathetic charade of a hunt – or killed in squalid abattoirs so their bones can be exported to the Far East.
“Britain’s complicity in lion farming is also laid bare by my undercover investigators, which includes ex-Special Forces soldiers, who have exposed how hunters and middlemen from this country are involved in the despicable trade.”
The peer then revealed how rich hunters pay as much as £42,300 ($54,000) to shoot a large male – often then mounting its head on a wall.
Some may not have known the animals they had shot had been raised for illegal hunts.
South Africa allows 800 captive-bred lion skeletons to be exported each year. They fetch about £125 ($161) a kilo, or £4,600 ($5,950) for a whole skeleton, including the skull.
Nearly all of the legal sales go to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, where the bones are boiled down and made into a cake.
But campaigners believe many more are leaving the country each year through illegal lion-bone smuggling.
Dr. Mark Jones, a vet and head of policy at the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife protection charity, said: “Far from contributing to wild lion protection, captive lion breeding facilities cynically exploit these animals at every stage for profit.
“Ultimately many of these animals will end up in canned hunts or as part of the bone trade. It’s factory farming by another name.”