When Alexandra Lamontagne left her home in Quebec, Canada, to volunteer at a wildlife facility in South Africa, she didn’t know the dark secret her bosses kept from her. She was told the five baby lions she was caring for were eventually going to a zoo in Denmark. She developed a deeply emotional connection with the cubs, especially the youngest, Serabie. She remembers bottle-feeding Serabie and how he’d fall asleep in her lap.
It was only after she returned to Canada that Lamontagne learned that the cubs she’d cared for were going to be sent to a “canned hunting” facility, something she’d never heard of in her life.
“Canned hunting” takes lions who are bred by humans and markets them to hunters looking for an easy kill. Hunters can browse images of available lions online and place an order. Once they go to the hunting facility, they are given guns and escorted out into a small enclosure where their animal are kept. Sometimes a lion is drugged to make him even easier to shoot. Then the lion, who has learned to trust people, is shot as many times as it takes to kill it.
“I tried to find out, but I was never able to know the truth,” she explained. She was horrified when she learned the cubs she loved were born just to be shot. “So many people didn’t know about canned hunting. They were like me at the beginning.”
Through social media, Lamontagne raised enough money to buy Serabie’s freedom. Her plan was to take him to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary. When she returned to the facility, she found Serabie in an enclosure with 14 other cubs. They were all being raised so hunters could eventually shoot them.
Even after the rescue, Lamontagne couldn’t eat, sleep or stop crying because she couldn’t save all the cubs. It helped to be interviewed for the new MSNBC documentary “Blood Lions,” an exposé on the canned hunting industry. Anything to get the word out about this cruel practice.
According to ” Blood Lions,” which compiled data from the South African Predator Association, the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and various other governmental and provincial bodies, it’s estimated that anywhere between 800 and 1,000 lions are being shot annually just in South Africa, and just over 50 percent of these hunters come from the U.S.
“I just hope by saving [Serabie] I made a little difference in this horrible practice, because I saw so many other lions where Serabie was and it’s still painful that I couldn’t save them all,” Lamontagne says. “It was so important to show people that killing an animal is not right. That animal does recognize you and they have feelings, too.”