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;
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.