Why the TGA undertook the task of finding out the “truth”

Part of the TGA’s vision is to create a society that is properly informed about the principles and practices of wildlife management and our purpose in investigating the Captive Breeding of Lions Industry (CBL) was to further that purpose.  “Something” recently exploded the much respected Professional Hunting Association of South Africa (PHASA) and caused some of its members to form a splinter group which has called itself “The Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation – South Africa” (CPHC-SA); but I was unable to discover just what that “something” was.  When it happened, all I could ascertain was that it had something to do with the existence of the Captive Breeding of Lions Industry (CBL) about which I knew absolutely nothing.

Sure, there was a lot of animal rights propaganda on the Internet; and a considerable amount of “interpretation of the facts” by journalists hooking into a hot story – both of which material I rejected out of hand.

But, try as I might, I could not find any “FACTS”.

I was cajoled by pro-Custodian elements to reject CBL out of hand; and I asked them: “On what grounds can I do that?”  Attempts were made by others to get me to embrace CBL and to make such a public statement and I asked them the same question:  “On what grounds can I do that?”

I truly had no “facts” to persuade me one way of the other.  So I set out to “find the truth” myself; and it was on that “truth” that I have reported.

I can honestly say that when I embarked on this CBL survey I knew it was going to create a furore – no matter what my findings were.  From the beginning I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.  But I can tell you with all honesty that when we started this survey we had no idea how it was going to pan out.  I was prepared to condemn CBL or to condone it!  So, to those of you who believe that I went into this exercise with the idea of writing a favourable CBL report, I say: “You are wrong”.  My report is now “out” so it must now stand the test of public scrutiny.

Now that my findings have been made public does not mean that the TGA has finally “chosen sides”.  What we have done is to tell the TRUTH as we found it to be.  Now the public will have to make up its own mind about our finding.  At least, NOW, the man-in-the-street will have an honest opinion on which to base his deliberations – not just animal rights propaganda; or the personal preference opinions of a few overly puristic hunters.  The TGA has undertaken NOT to get involved in the domestic affairs of South Africa’s wildlife industry and we intend to stick by that decision.  So we will continue to speak with the Custodians; we will continue to speak with PHASA: and we will continue to speak with SAPA (The South African Predator Association) – and to anybody and everybody else – with equal consideration.  But we will NOT be told WHAT to think or do.

I believe that what the public needs to comprehend about the TGA’s participation in this affair, is that – knowing the possible negative consequences (either way) – the decision to continue with the survey, and to report our findings so openly and honestly – required a great deal of courage.  Everyone should respect that reality!

In the end, the surprising outcome (which information was supplied to me by a staunch Custodian) was that CPHC-SA was not specifically antagonistic towards the idea of captive bred lions being hunted, per se, but by the fact that captive-bred lions could ONLY be hunted by using the “put-and-take” method. It was, actually, the put-and-take method of hunting, generally, to which the Custodians took particular umbrage.  This included the hunting of “captive-bred” buffaloes, sable, roan, kudu, wildebeest, impala (and many other species) all of which are, today, often hunted by way of put-and-take hunting in South Africa. This does not happen all of the time; but it does happen some of the time. The Custodians also objected to the hunting of colour-variant animals.

NB: Put-and-Take hunting occurs when a specific animal – a particular lion, buffalo or sable (for example) – is considered ‘ready to be hunted’, it is released into the veld and it is ‘hunted’ within several days of its release.

In the recent past, many game species were bred in a variety of different colours; and they were released for hunting purposes onto the game ranches.  The practice of breeding different colour varieties of game animals, therefore, was tried and has been largely discontinued because ‘the market’, eventually, did not respond positively to the practice.  I, long ago, advised the hunting world that the TGA would not “take sides” in the colour-variant controversy because I predicted ‘the market’ would make that decision for us – one way or another – over time.  And that is what seems to be happening right now.

In some cases (I am told) individual animals – with guaranteed horn lengths – are offered to overseas hunters; and a day or two before they are hunted they are immobilised with a dart gun – so that the client can satisfy himself that the animal’s horns are of the length that he has purchased.  I have a great deal of sympathy for the Custodian’s objection to this practice.  THAT is NOT my kind of “personal preference hunting” at all.  Nevertheless, it is not illegal.

Ron Thomson and Elma Britz

However, I have made some inquiries and have ascertained that, although such actions have taken place in the recent past, the incidence of such blatant and undesirable (to me) ‘put-and-take’ hunting only occurs some 5 percent of the time. So, let’s keep this issue in perspective.  And let’s understand that to place ALL the blame on CBL – for the much wider put-and-take hunting practice to which the Custodians object – is grossly unfair.

And now, as to the stated claim that the very existence of the CBL Industry has caused “Brand South Africa” to lose credibility overseas, the Director of “Brand South Africa”, at the parliamentary colloquium held in Cape Town in August 2018,  claimed that that idea was too simplistic.  And he explained that it takes a combination of several things to cause a country’s “brand” to lose credibility. Finally, he stated, unequivocally, that the CBL Industry had NOT in any way damaged “Brand South Africa”.

In my opinion, the intentional furore over CBL was generated in two ways: (1) South Africa’s animal rights organisations spread their propaganda into Europe and America – seeking the support of their international animal rights friends to have the CBL industry in South Africa closed down; and (2) the Custodians cannot escape a great deal of the blame because they, too, have spread their chagrin far and wide amongst the international hunting associations.  So the controversy is entirely South African made.

So, here are some more ‘truths” to which the public has not been previously exposed.  And the TGA is NOT especially favouring CBL.  It has merely written a variously favourable report on its CBL survey findings; and it did so to provide our TGA supporters, and the general public, with some truths about the Captive Breeding of Lions issue that have been nowhere to be found prior to us writing our report.

Acknowledgements: I wish to acknowledge the fact that Mrs Elma Britz, herself a TGA Director, accompanied me on the TGA’s CBL tour in June 2018; and that she contributed significantly to the compilation and editing of this article. I also wish to state that this article – in the face of massive opposition – required a great deal of courage to write. But I was compelled to write it because it reflects, to the best of my ability, the truth about CBL.



  1. A very well written piece which appears to support an open minded approach – and that’s to be applauded.

    There can be no question and it’s understandable that those who take a purist view – and so a claimed ethical stance will wish to distance themselves from the practice of releasing an animal in to the wild, in to a totally alien environment and then approach it within presumably a day or so, and to kill it. It would be simpler, more ethical and perhaps even more honest, were the animal to simply be shot, in it’s pen or cage – and so would be the claim of many. It would be a claim which I could support too, were it not for the fact that there are those species which will benefit from a Put-and-Take approach.

    Lions though, present an entirely different influence. They are the king of the jungle for a very good reason, they share with man, though in their own world, the rank of leading predator. Lions live in social groups and disrupting those groups by removing the lead animals causes considerable disruption. Releasing captive bred lions which are not part of an accepted family group runs the risk of also causing equal disruption should they enter in to the domain of established prides.

    So where does the answer lay? Is it ethical to rear animals, turn them loose and then kill them? – – Put like that, probably not. Is it ethical to rear lions and kill them in such a manner? – – Considering the possible damage done to the social structures of existing prides, then possibly because the alternative is equally risk-full.

    It would seem that I have more questions than answers – – but there is though, one thing of which I am convinced;
    Ethics matter and hand in hand with that approach is the matter of Self-regulation – and those who fail to accept that we’re living in a changing world, those who fail to see the damage done to Hunting by the killing of Cecil, those who insist upon facing an immovable object – the Animal Rights movements, will be responsible for the end of African Hunting, as we know it and within the next 30 years – – of that there is no question.

    When commercial hunting is banned – or at least, the import of trophies is stopped, and/or the carrying of trophies by airlines, then those who live by the Bush/Veldt, both black AND white, will no longer have the wherewithal to protect and promote wildlife and the hordes will swamp the game fields.

    If we’re to consider the future then we need to give a considerable degree of diligence to the present, I’d suggest.

    • Dear Alec,
      THOUGHT-PROVOKING IF NOTHING ELSE. But seemingly based on a false presumption.

      The story about Cecil the lion was animal rights propaganda designed to stir uninformed public emotions. The story was simply NOT true.

      Cecil-the-lion had been a dominant male living in a pride of lions in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. He had been dominant for several years – and he became well-known to the public in that position – but ultimately the time came for him to be deposed. He was ousted by a stronger younger male when Cecil was 13 years old (which was inevitable – because it happens to all dominant males in time). Cecil then had to find a new place to live; and new way of living. He became a rejected “old Nomad”. In that position he was pushed about by every male lion in the Hwange Lion population – AND by the packs of spotted hyenas – who all chased him away because he was a threat to other male lions and hyena packs, and a serious competitor to them both. This is all normal. Cecil’s problem was that he needed to find a new home-range where there were no adult lions that could harass him; and where there were enough prey animals for him to catch and eat. As happens in all these circumstances, Cecil gravitated to the edge of the national park where he began to find a niche on private land outside the national parks. I know Hwange well. I used to be the Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of that national park – and since 1960, I have shot many domestic-stock-killing nomadic lions that pitched up on the private farms outside the park boundaries. If Cecil had resisted being pushed out of the park – and onto private land – the big dominant male lions inside the park would have killed him. He had become, therefore, “surplus” to the lion population inside the national park. He was not enticed out of the park by a drag-bait. He didn’t have to be. Just by laying a carcass on the ground – or tying it to a tree branch (to place it out of reach of the hyenas) was good enough to attract Cecil to his death. The hunters papers were in order (a fact that was admitted by the Zimbabwe Minister of the Environment); he was killed legally; and although there were, apparently, certain “irregularities” the hunt was legal, approved, and carried out in the acceptable manner. The furore, therefore, was all manufactured by the propagandists – and the public made sure that the “lie” caused maximum attention. So, using the Cecil example to emphasis your point is probably not a good omen. The (above) Cecil Story was corroborated by the Oxford University WILDCRU scientists who collared Cecil – plus some 60 odd other lions in the general area too.

      Anybody and everybody has a right to have a personal preference opinion about this tale but they do not have the right to perpetuate the lie, or to dictate that “their” personal preference” attitude is the correct one to adopt.

      Lions do live in social groups – for a time – until the age of about 22/24 months of age./ As youngsters they live in cohesive prides – but not always without death. Big lions are “killing machines” and they often kill younger lions for very little reason (and they eat them). And when a dominant male is deposed the new leader (apparently) kills the young animals in the pride (but not always!) By the time they are two years old, however, the young lions are evicted from their parental prides and from then on, until they are big adults (at 5, 6 or 7 years old) they live away from the adult pride. They then become young nomads – living alone or in small groups – and they are massively preyed upon by adult lions and hyenas. Indeed, the majority of young lions between the age of two and six years are killed before they reach six. And only a very few live to the age where they depose a dominant male and take over his pride. Death – throughout that maturing 3 to 6 years old period of their lives – is a constant companion. So your lovely concept of lions living in a happy “social group” is somewhat misplaced.

      The people who know how best to look after lions in captivity are the lion farmers themselves. So, if you have no personal experience in this field, I would suggest that you listen to what the lion farmer’s recommend. What you are repeating, in this regard, is animal rights rhetoric (propaganda) and that is simple NOT to be believed.

      I hope this opens your mind a little?

      With kind regards


  2. Peter John Mills

    The Cecil, and now Sky, issues have been blown totally out of proportion and there should not have been an outcry about either. And, I wish they would stop using human names for these animals. But I want to talk a little more about the ethics. We continue to apply a western ethics to African wildlife that is totally inappropriate on this continent. While there might be growing animal rights sentiments in the West it has certainly not taken ground at local level. Nor has the concept of conservation taken purchase (at all). There is a growing volume of local literature (written by black Africans) that support my view. But their voice is being suppressed by the Big International NGO’s (BINGO’s) who have the money to be able to do that. We have to realise the current brand of wildlife management/conservation (although they are not necessarily the same thing) is not sustainable and will therefore not save our wildlife. Especially not our mega fauna. Based on the concepts of ownership and value Africans must develop their own brand of wildlife management. If the BINGO’s want to help they can but on our terms.

    • Well said Mr John Mills. For any country to survive at anything at all requires that its own wildlife culture be its predominating influence. Other countries – or private institutions- should never prescribe to a sovereign state. And THAT is what the TGA has been saying since its inception. Furthermore, it is the people of the country who “own’ the resource in question that should be the chief beneficiaries of its sustainable utilization. I wish more people would start to understand this basic truth. One of the “black Africans” most vociferous about this point of view is – incidentally – journalist Emmanuel Koro who is one of us. He is a TGA Director. So now you will know better where we are coming from; and from where HE comes.
      You are right and wrong about another thing, however, there is no such thing as a “current brand of wildlife management/conservation’ (as you put it). Wildlife management is a science – it operates within certain unchangeable principles. E.g. a plant needs soil to grow in; herbivorous animals need plants to eat (or they will die). Ipso facto, the wise use and protection of THE SOIL is society’s FIRST (most important) wildlife management priority; the wise use and protection of PLANTS is our SECOND (most important) wildlife management priority; and the wise use and protection of ANIMALS comes THIRD (AND LAST) in the wildlife management priority hierarchy. THAT does not mean animals are NOT important; it means animals are LESS important than the soil and plants. Put another way: consideration for the health and stability of an elephant’s habitat is more important than the elephant itself.
      When people demand that man should not interfere in nature – that, for example, man should not practice culling on an excessive population – they are merely pandering to their our personal preference desiderata. They are giving no consideration whatsoever to the principles of wildlife management.
      Unfortunately, he animal rights recognize none of this. They put elephants FIRST on their wildlife management priority list and THAT can never work. It is putting the cart before the horse!
      You are not ‘quite’ right when you say that ‘wildlife management’ and ‘conservation’ are “not necessarily” the same thing. They are DEFINITELY NOT the same thing. “Wildlife management” is the principle or parent philosophy in this explanation and ‘conservation’ is one of the TWO “functions” of wildlife management. The other function is “preservation”. So both ‘conservation’ AND ‘preservation’ are two subordinate functions of wildlife management. Many people, however, use the word ‘conservation’ as a synonym for ‘wildlife management’ – but that is incorrect. They also believe that ‘wildlife management’ (and/or ‘conservation’) is another way of expressing total ‘preservation’ – which is equally wrong. Such people have got their vocabularies all mixed up – and THAT is the principle reason why so many people are at loggerheads over the principles and practices of wildlife management. Society is at loggerheads because we don’t all “speak the same language”.
      In a nutshell, ‘conservation’- when correctly interpreted’ REALLY means “The sustainable use of a SAFE living resource for the benefit of mankind”.
      Unfortunately the animal rightists are in this debate not to help save wildlife but to ‘use’ wildlife controversies to make a lot of money for themselves.
      You should wade through our website. There are extensive explanations of the wildlife management philosophy in there to explain all these things.
      But, thank you for your contribution. You are on the right track!
      Kind regards

  3. At last factual scientific evidence that should spear-head the correct narrative for an industry that is dying in Africa due to social media. If only the role-players would stop mud-slinging and focus on giving their industry the importance it deserves we could turn things around. Right now South Africa is on the brink of losing its wildlife because of false information, the power of social media spinning images to highly provocative anti-hunting sentiment, and destroying the reputation of our country. Kenya is a prime example of the danger of banning hunting and is a provable testament to the decimation of wildlife due to this ban. This article shows how Cecil, the Lion was a monstrous social media spin campaign that shut down Tourism to Southern Africa, shut down hunting (which is a highly regulated industry), shut down airline cargo carriers, carrying trophies and with it thousands of jobs have been lost, because of puffery and unscientific pronouncements. It is time the role=players and the people who benefit from hunting utilise organisations like yourself to mount an ongoing public relations campaign which provides the anti-hunting community with the correct information so that they are able to make informed decisions. It has to be a media campaign that has substance and not silly interviews designed to trap the spokesperson. Its time!

    • Dear Lorraine,
      “Why the TGA undertook to tell the truth”. I have nothing more to say. You have expressed the reasons why so eloquently – and you have hit the nail exactly on the head. All I have to add is the comment: “Thank you for being so perspicacious.” I can’t make your dissertation any better. As long as we (The TGA) take the trouble to discover and to reveal the “facts” – “the truth” – about ANY controversial matter; and make it available to wise, responsible and intelligent people in society – we are doing the right thing. The problem is that “the truth” is not always what many people want to hear. But the truth is what it is! And we have one of two choices about “the truth”: we have to bend to its power and do what it right; or we have to “live a lie”. And I am not prepared to “live a lie”.
      I am sending your letter far and wide in the hope that responsible organisations, and responsible people, will heed your call to “properly utilize” the TGA. The TGA is there “for everybody” and we are ready to “work for everybody” at the drop of a hat.
      Thank you, once again, for your response. It gives the TGA the courage that we need to “keep on going”.
      With kind regards
      Ron Thomson CEO-TGA

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