Alexander Anghelou is a psychologist specialised in cognitive behaviour therapy and is passionate about nature and wildlife.

Why would anyone be interested in killing a lion? Even if it was for free, which it is not.  As a psychologist this is what I try to understand.


In 2014, after visiting South Africa, I wrote an article titled “Lion Canned Hunting, the person behind the ‘Hunter’”. This was before the infamous “Cecile the Lion” incident which sparked the world and exposed the brutal and pitiful practice of canned hunting. At the time, the psychopathic industry of canned hunting was unknown to most people. On the first of July 2015, Cecil the emblematic lion in Zimbabwe, is killed by an American dentist and exposed this barbaric kind of hunting to the world. Hearing of this industry for the first time, people were shocked and disgusted that this existed and was even legal. I decided to look back since my article was written and see how things have evolved and analyse the persona who indulges in such practices. 

It’s over-compensation to avoid the reality that they are not 100% in control.

For those who have not heard of lion canned hunting, it consists of putting an adult lion (which has been hand reared and habituated to humans) in an enclosure where a trophy hunter kills the lion with a rifle, gun, or crossbow from the safety of a jeep. There is no possibility of escape and no ‘skill’ required. The lion, that has been habituated to humans, is calm until it gets shot, usually more than once, before dying an agonizing death. After killing the lion ‘the brave hunter’ poses for a picture with the dead animal, before getting it shipped home to hang on their wall. A dirty business built on animal suffering and money.  

Four years after first hearing about canned hunting, I still believe that we live in a fast pace world that makes us feel less in control and therefore less secure. To feel secure, many seek to over compensate by seeking an unrealistic degree of control, this strategy backfires as it leads in the opposite direction where one eventually ends up feeling helpless and therefore more anxious and more insecure.

Born to Die. Photo: Alexander Anghelou

In the case of canned hunters, I believe that it is over-compensation to avoid the reality that they are not 100% in control.  I believe that the power and thrill the hunter feels by killing a lion, which is a symbol of power, is due to the fact that they feel reassured by fooling themselves that they have more power than they actually have and therefore temporarily feel more secure.  The problem with reassurance is that it is addictive, the more we have it, the more we need it.  Since we habituate to it, our need for it escalates as we need more of it to get the same effect.

Behaviour isn’t random; it always serves a purpose and has a function.  Many things we do are to feel more secure.  The more control we feel we have the more secure we feel, but it’s a self defeating trap because as soon as the illusion of control is exposed, we end up feeling more anxious and insecure than before. More and more people today have the expectation to be 100% in control and to be sure. I am confident that each trophy hunter has individual twists and subtleties but this is an important component and a common denominator that I would expect to see in a mild or significant way in each one of them.

Boasting about killing an animal isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of insecurity.  

To be secure is to accept that our control is limited.  Only then do we maximise our feeling of control.  When we feel secure we do not feel the need to dominate and kill.  I do not include hunters, that hunt to eat or people who are in a situation where they need to defend themselves.  I am referring to the hunters who fly to the other end of the world to kill for the ‘entertainment and thrill.’  Boasting about killing an animal isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of insecurity.   The way to address this insecurity isn’t by escaping or over-compensating but rather by coming to terms with reality, which is that we do not have 100% control over our lives, we never did and never will and that does not mean we should live in fear.

Imprisoned Lion. Photo: Alanxader Anghelou

The Situation:

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the animal massacre that is happening in Africa today, here are a few figures from Conservation Action Trust in South Africa

Research reveals that in 14 years (between 2001 and 2015) South Africa and Tanzania alone represent the biggest exporters of animals in Africa.  During this period, they shipped 10,273 dead animals and 6,208 living animals of various species.

An astonishing 81,572 hunting trophies from African Bush Elephants were exported from Africa in this time – including skin pieces, tusks, feet and ivory carvings. 

In the same 14-year time frame 17,000 African lions were killed for sport resulting in their pelts, heads and bones exported for hunting trophies.

In 2016 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the Obama administration stopped the import of lion trophies from South Africa due to the listing of Panthera Leo as threatened on the Endangered Species Act because the African lion population had decline by 43 percent between 1993 and 2014. The Trump administration has set to undo the Obama legislation by legalising the importation of lion and elephant trophies into the United States but this decision was put on hold, leaving the situation unclear.

One should note that fifty years ago, there were around 500,000 lions in Africa while today there are less than 20,000 and within the next 15 years there might not be any wild and free lions in Africa should this continue.  Recent data from the DEA (South African Department of Environmental Affairs) estimate around 7000 captive lions being bred for ‘the bullet’ in approximately 260 facilities (100 more than in 2014).   

Some Lion kisses. Photo: Alexander Anghelou

What’s Being Done

In November of 2015, the movie ‘Blood Lions’ by Ian Michler exposing canned lion hunting is projected at the European parliament.  I believe this movie played a big role in raising awareness.  In the past 4 years, I have seen great efforts made to raise awareness and to engage companies and legislative bodies to defend lions from this industry.  Efforts to block the import of trophies into Europe as well as to encourage airlines to refuse the transport of animal parts ‘trophies’ and to stop this disgraceful industry from destroying wildlife.

Also in 2015, the Australian Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, announced a ban on the importation of lion trophies as part of a crackdown on canned hunting making Australia the first country to make the import of Lion trophies illegal. Shortly after, over 40 airline companies started refusing the transport of big-game trophies.

Possibly the greatest news is that on the 3rd of February 2018 in Las Vegas, a surprising milestone was reached when the world’s largest hunting club, Safari Club International (SCI) announced at its annual convention that it condemned and would no longer advertise or accept hunts of captive bred lions therefore greatly affecting the canned hunting industry in South Africa.

The world is reacting to this immoral industry, but no changes have been seen on the side of the South African government, for example, who continues to support the canned hunting of lions. Today, however, with the news of president Jacob Zuma’s resignation I believe this may finally change as it was widely said that his presidency wasn’t going to alter the policy. 

I would like to thank and show my gratitude to the many dedicated people who have been working hard for lions and I encourage anyone who is touched by this piece to contribute in their own way.

Here are just a few heroes trying to bring an end to canned hunting: Kevin & Mandy Richardson –, Luis and CJ Munoz: Chelui4lions [Facebook], Chris Mercer, and Julie Lasne (CACH)


About the Author: Alexander Anghelou is a psychologist specialised in cognitive behaviour therapy and is passionate about nature and wildlife.


  1. Thank you so much for your support Alex, Chris just sent me your paper as I am still in Southern Africa now…For this murders industry that you are so well talking about.

  2. Thanks for your perspective. It is as good an explanation as any; and it supports the need that some humans have for “instant gratification”, something a traditional hunter may not get. But there is also the truth that there are varying degrees of empathy, and lack thereof, that contribute to certain kinds of human behavior; and there is no way to know why, when, where, or how this trait will manifest itself. For those of us that abhor hunting of any kind, canned hunts are particularly horrific. If we could only understand how empathy is established in the first place, we could better understand why these egregious human behaviors happen, and perhaps find a means to eliminate them.

    • Some trophy hunters most definitely are psychopaths. Psychopaths represent 3% of the male population and 0.5% of the female population. One of the most characteristic features they have is that they have the incapacity of having emotions like most people, a lack of conscience or regard for others. They seek to control and dominate for their self-gratification and are indifferent to how it may affect others. They are remorseless, lack empathy and are unable to form emotional relationships. It’s always about them and they are cold and calculated. They are great liars and manipulators. The concentration of psychopaths is higher the higher up you go in a company’s, organization’s, government’s hierarchy. They climb up the social ladder faster as they are not constrained by morality given their lack of empathy. Usually, the smarter the psychopath, the less overtly violent and more manipulative they are. Nevertheless, since they are numb emotionally, they often seek extreme situations to feel very mild emotions. If emotions were colors, they would live in a colorless world. If life was a song, they would be able to see the lyrics but would be incapable of hearing the music.
      I can see how trophy hunting would be interesting for them, they would get a glimpse of emotion from the extreme situation but they would also greatly ‘enjoy’ power over others and animals. They would probably try to sell the idea as a powerful activity and would probably appreciate showing off the trophy and price tag that goes with it for status. I don’t know who would find that admirable but anyway.. I don’t think only psychopaths are in trophy hunting whether as organizers or customers, but I’m confident that a high percentage of that population would rate highly on the psychopathy checklist.. I also believe that forbidding the transport of trophies, confiscating them and fining the owners would be a big deterrent as well.

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