Ukutula Lodge's application for injunctive relief against Blood Lions and its crew, launched in September last year, has been unsuccessful.
The film, launched in July 2015, sought to educate viewers in the potential links between breeding lions in captivity and the array of revenue streams within the industry, explained safari operator, and lead character and researcher of Blood Lions, Ian Michler.
Ukutula Lodge felt it was defamed by the documentary. The facility was included in the film because it happens to be one of the largest captive predator facilities, and offers cub petting.
The lodge wanted all depictions, references and images of them removed from the film, as well as a formal written statement confirming no evidence found any link between Ukutula and the canned lion hunting and trade industry.
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Blood Lions argued that any reference to Ukutula was not defamatory, which the lodge later admitted.
"When we filmed at Ukutula, we were aware of at least 25 cubs, all seemingly a few months old, as we were allowed to pet and play with them," Michler explained.
On Friday, Honourable Justice Koen ruled in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg that after viewing the footage, the documentary was not defamatory. He added that "… even if I was wrong in that regard, I am not persuaded that any such defamation would be wrongful.
"What was shown in the film would be justified by the defences of media privilege and fair comment."
Blood Lions is an organisation concerned with stopping the captive-bred lion industry, canned hunting and the export of bones and body parts.
Despite their efforts, the reality of an ever-growing trade of lions being bred in captivity, cub petting, lion walks, canned hunting and eventual slaughter for parts and bones is that it is flourishing, more so, Michler said, since the first legal quotas were issued in 2016.
Photo: Ian Michler / Blood Lions
Michler has been investigating the cycle of captive breeding, hunting and trade since the 1990s. He said back then, "nearly all the predators were going into canned hunts or the trade in live animals."
The export of lion bones became significant in 2008, he added.
"The tourism trade, which includes petting and walking facilities as well as the so-called sanctuaries, seems to have been given their boost when the South African government lost a court case in 2010," Michler explained.
Michler lamented the cubs from Ukutula could not have gone to release programmes, as this would not have been allowed by the recognised conservation community.
But five years on, he said many more cubs have moved through the system.
"Since we completed Blood Lions, the number of lions and other predators in captivity seems to have grown, with the tourism industry and bone trade being the likely drivers. Both of these sectors have shown significant growth."
This growth sees more than 10 000 lions currently in captivity, compared to only around 2 800 wild lions left.
"Where are all these lions in captivity coming from. And we know they have no conservation value as the recognised conservation community has made this clear, so where do all the older ones go? And why are they being kept in captivity?"
Recent investigations, including Lord Ashcroft's book, Unfair Game, have made the public increasingly aware of the underhanded nature of the captive-bred lion and predator industry, the sinister practices involved, and the level of cruelty inflicted on lions during canned hunts.
Michler said no legal challenge against Blood Lions or anyone else will be enough to stop them raising awareness globally "about the horrors of South Africa's predator breeding, canned hunting or exploitative tourism industries."
"We are simply one of millions of voices from the wider conservation, scientific and responsible tourism sector as well as amongst concerned citizens calling for an end to the practices."
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