The correct term for this is canned shooting and not canned hunting, because there's absolutely no factor of hunting involved in the practice. I've never been known to duck issues or lack the courage of my convictions and this article will consequently tell the cold hard facts as I see them.
Unfortunately, it cannot be denied that canned shooting exists in southern Africa. Therefore this site would not be complete without my addressing the situation so that our visitors know how to tell a canned shoot from a genuine hunt and before I start, I'd like to make my personal opinion of this appalling practice completely clear.
I believe canned shooting to be the greatest threat to the long term future of the African hunting industry at the present time and that this totally unethical practice has no place in true hunting, and that those who are involved in it or knowingly take part in it need to be put out of business as soon as possible. It should be noted that the canned shooting problem is most prevalent but not entirely restricted to South Africa and the species most affected, but not entirely restricted to, are the big cats, especially lions.
To avoid confusion, I'll also add that some lions in South Africa and other countries are hunted in areas that adjoin the larger parks such as the Kruger National Park, and if they do truly come out of the park, although they'll be habituated to humans and vehicles, they'll have lived their lives in wild, had to fight for their position in leonine society and can be viewed as legitimate quarry, even though their behaviour patterns are somewhat different to a truly wild lion that has lived it's life in a true wilderness area.
So let's first look at what the definition of canned shooting really is, and this is to some degree open to personal interpretation. My own definition is that any animal that has ever spent any appreciable time or has been bred or allowed to breed in human captivity and then released into an area to be shot is canned. If the animal has been drugged, before the arrival of the client, then this makes it many times worse. Some clients who book these hunts are naive enough to believe it when they're told they are hunting a wild animal. Sometimes it isn't just to the canned lion that the term 'lamb to the slaughter' could be applied!
So, let's now move on to a few pointers that will allow you to spot the difference between a dodgy lion hunt and a legitimate one. You first need to look hard at the websites of the southern African companies you're researching. Consider the area's proximity to the aforementioned National or Provincial Parks and if they're removed from those parks, ask the outfitter or agent how long the lions have been living in the area, where they came from and whether they're self- sustaining. Then ask yourself if you believe the answers to be reasonable. Remember that lions eat a huge amount of meat and if they're self-sustaining, that meat has to come from the plains game animals that live on the property and can the landowner realistically afford that loss of animals for the claimed period the lions have been there.
Also consider the number of lions on the website, the time span in which they were taken and the size of the hunting area. Lions are territorial and if a site has umpteen males taken in a year, then common logic should tell you that something's probably wrong somewhere.
Next thing to look for when you arrive in the area is the condition and behaviour of the lions you see. A wild lion is always extremely alert as soon as he's aware of something new in the vicinity; he's also rarely fat and usually arrogant. Look into the animals eyes and if he stares blankly back at you and/or if his gaze wanders, rather than is completely focused on you, or if he's a porker, your alarm bells should be ringing. If he spots the vehicle and makes for it as though he's expecting to be fed, he's probably expecting just that very thing! Also look for old or indeed, new kills in the hunting area. If there's neatly quartered lumps of meat around rather than entire animals, listen out for those alarm bells. The greatest give away though is the scarring or lack of scarring on the animal. A wild lion, even one that's lived in a park his whole life, will have fought to establish his place in the pecking order and an unscarred or lightly scarred, mature lion will almost certainly have spent most of his life in a cage or pen. It's funny how many South African lions seem to get through life in an unscarred condition and with manes that the original MGM lion would be proud of.
Always remember that there's no such thing as a guaranteed lion hunt and if you want to absolutely sure you're hunting a truly wild lion, I'd advise you to go hunt it in a true wilderness area such as Mozambique or Tanzania.