By Lord Ashcroft, Mail on Sunday | June 14, 2020
- Lord Ashcroft last year revealed details of an undercover mission, Operation Simba, which he funded in South Africa in 2018 and 2019
- It aimed to shed light on the way the ‘appalling’ captive-bred lion industry is run
- He compiled a team, including an undercover agent and people with military expertise, to try to infiltrate the lucrative trade
I cannot abide those who are cruel to animals, but the sad fact is that in our digital age, my strong aversion is aroused all too often. I have lost count of the number of people who post on social media platforms such as Twitter so-called ‘kill shots’ of themselves grinning at the camera (or, even worse, kissing their partner) alongside a beautiful animal they have recently slaughtered.
Revelling publicly in the death of a creature in this way is completely alien to me.
People may be brutal through ignorance or by taking shortcuts to save money, but South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry is conscious, intentional cruelty, sometimes carried out with or for pleasure. I cannot think about this without feeling a burning sense of shame. The question is: for how much longer will South Africa allow this industry to prosper?
I have lost count of the number of people who post on social media platforms such as Twitter so-called ‘kill shots’ of themselves grinning at the camera. In 2019, hunters Darren and Carolyn Carter from Canada incurred the wrath of thousands worldwide with this provocative – and disturbing – show of triumph
In a major exposé in this newspaper last year, I revealed details of an undercover mission, Operation Simba, which I had funded in South Africa in 2018 and 2019, which aimed to shed light on the way this appalling trade is run.
I described the hideous phenomenon of ‘canned hunting’, whereby lions bred in captivity are drugged and released into a relatively small area and then shot by a tourist who has paid many thousands of pounds for the privilege. It is not so much a chase as an utter farce. The photos of people standing triumphantly over these wretched beasts once they are dead are sickening.
I also revealed how once the farm-bred lions have served their purpose, their bones and other body parts are exported for the booming Asian medicine market. At every stage of their lives, these animals are abused and monetised. Even as cubs they are forced to play with tourists, although they should be sleeping for 16 to 20 hours a day in order to grow and thrive.
Finally, I reported how an undercover team had managed to save one of the lions, Simba, just as he was about to be shot in a canned hunt. I am now paying for him to live out his days in a secure and peaceful location.
Despite my feelings of euphoria at having saved Simba in the nick of time, it seemed clear that more needed to be done. It was obvious that those who profit by abusing lions are able to operate with great ease in South Africa. I decided to assemble my own evidence through a second covert investigation.
Our findings could then be presented to the South African authorities so pressure could be brought to bear on the perpetrators. And so Operation Chastise was born.
Named after the famous Dambusters mission and involving a crack team of former British Army and security services personnel, it swung into action in April 2019.
Despite my feelings of euphoria at having saved Simba in the nick of time, it seemed clear that more needed to be done
The risks of this project cannot be overstated.
The captive-bred lion industry is guarded jealously by its practitioners – many with links to global organised crime – while the value of human life in South Africa is far lower than it is in Britain. The bravery and ingenuity displayed by my team was phenomenal.
Through the recruitment of an undercover agent, a South African lion dealer, they managed to infiltrate this highly lucrative business. Our double agent, to whom we gave the codename Lister, was able to provide us with video footage of extreme cruelty to lions.