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WARNING: CONTAINS DISTRESSING CONTENT
A new book and accompanying film from Lord Ashcroft details a shocking new revelation about the hunting industry in Africa, where thousands of lions are being farmed in captivity, only to be shot dead by tourists.
In his new book Unfair Game: An Exposé Of South Africa's Captive-Bred Lion Industry, businessman and philanthropist Ashcroft explores captive-lion breeding on the continent, having launched a major investigation into how many big cats are killed either for the bone trade or for trophy hunters in 'canned hunts'.
In an excerpt from the book, published by the Daily Mail, Ashcroft explained how there are now an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa - four times the number of wild lions.
"It is no exaggeration to say that the abuse of lions in South Africa has become an industry," he said.
"Thousands are bred on farms every year; they are torn away from their mothers when they are just days old, used as pawns in the tourist sector and then either killed in a 'hunt' or simply slaughtered for their bones and other body parts, which are very valuable in Asia's so-called medicine market.
"In between, they are poorly fed, kept in cramped and unhygienic conditions, beaten if they do not perform for paying customers, and drugged.
"This sinister system has sprouted up in plain sight in South Africa, inflicting misery on this most noble of beasts on an unimaginable scale.
"My research suggests it is highly likely that there are now at least 12,000 captive-bred lions in the country, against a wild population of just 3,000. Yet, strikingly, just a small number of people - a few hundred - profit from this abusive set-up. Thanks to South Africa's constitution and laws, they seem able to operate as they wish."
Ashcroft commissioned two undercover operations over two years, respectively codenamed Operation Simba and Operation Chastise.
From their work, the team found evidence of a captive-bred lion being hunted and killed illegally using a pack of dogs, while a gruesome video shows two hunting lodge owners shooting a lioness in the tree, before shooting her another nine times as she dies 'in agony' on the ground.
Ashcroft also claims there has been a warning from experts that lion farming and the lion bone trade are likely to lead another major public health incident, possibly even 'another coronavirus-style pandemic'.
Lion bones are in high demand in the Far East, where they are believed to have medicinal properties and to act as an aphrodisiac - with a single lion carcass being worth thousands of pounds, and the bones from lions often made into 'cake' or wine.
According to the new publication, a captive-bred adult male lion with an impressive mane can fetch up to £40,000 from trophy hunters wanting to shoot it in a canned hunt.
But now Ashcroft is campaigning vigorously for captive-bred lion farming to be banned in South Africa.
In a press release for the new book, from which he is donating all royalities to wildlife charities in South Africa, he said: "Lion farming shames South Africa, a country that I have loved visiting for many years. It's time to recognise that it is a cruel and barbaric industry which has no place in the 21st century."
Ashcroft also believes the UK Government must follow the lead of other countries, including the US, in banning the importation of captive-bred lion trophies and the trophies of other endangered species.
He added: "The British Government can't control what takes place within South Africa's own borders but it can show our opposition to lion farming. We must not be complicit in any way with this vile practice."
Unfair Game: An Exposé Of South Africa's Captive-Bred Lion Industry will be published on Tuesday 16 June.
Watch the accompanying film on YouTube here.
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