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Cub Petting & walking with lions......Conservation or a death certificate??

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 25 April 2014 | Views [2151]

Lion park

Lion park

When planning a visit to South Africa, most dream of seeing some of her famed wildlife, preferably in its natural environment. These days we are spoilt by television programmes which show up close the marvels of what can be seen on safari, and it is almost expected that – if so fortunate to  be able to go to a wildlife reserve – these animals should just pop out and practically greet one, posing for photographs and videos, doing Africa proud. Well, often they do; not because they mean to, but just because you happen to be near where they want to be walking/ lying/ hunting/ drinking water or whatever else one does as an African animal. And it’s unbelievably exciting to be a part of their day.

But even then these animals sometimes seem distant – they are, after all, wild animals and behave as such. And humans have a deep need to “connect” with animals, to be close to them, to feel as though we can communicate with them even. So when offered the chance to cuddle with a cute little lion cub and have your photograph taken for all to admire when you get back from your African holiday – well..... doesn’t that sound like one of the highlights of your trip?

Nowadays, there are numerous places in South Africa and other countries, where you can do this, as well as “walking with lions” opportunities – an equally exciting-sounding venture.  Even celebrities are doing it – Kylie Minogue cuddling a cute lion cub, John Edward walking with some half-grown lions during his last South African visit – doesn’t that look great! But did you notice how thin the lions look that he was walking with? Did you notice their empty eyes? Why would little tiny lion cubs want to rather be pawed and manhandled by people all day than be with their mothers, spending their days sleeping and playing with their own kind instead? Isn’t there a little voice in your head asking if this is just not the right thing to do?

So why is happening? In short – for the money. Your money.

Places offering cub petting and lion walking are feeding directly into the canned hunting industry (where animals are hunted within a limited area, often drugged, with no chance of getting away). And by visiting these places and paying for the privilege of being with these young animals, you are dooming them to a lifetime of suffering and, ultimately, to death.

Most of the cubs you see are males. Those are the ones that will ultimately grow the big manes that hunters are after. The cubs have been taken from their mothers within five days of birth – this is so that the females get back into their breeding cycles as quickly as possible. The female cubs are killed, left to starve to death. But even these little ones have value – their bones are shipped to the Far East and used as “tiger bones”.

If you are shocked, I’m sorry. But these things ARE shocking – we are about to lose the “King of Beasts” forever – because of greed and money. And YOU can help us stop that. So if you are travelling to Africa to see wildlife, please don’t stop reading now!

If you ask questions at these places such as “where are the cubs’ mothers?” you will be told either that they are orphans or that the mothers rejected them – playing on your emotions and ensuring that your caring human side is virtually forced to help these helpless babies – because you are a good person. You will also be told that, once they are old enough, these animals will go back into the wild. Does that make sense to you? You are playing, or walking, with an animal that will be put back into the wild, to find its own food – how will it know not to go to the nearest human village and “ask” for food, a.k.a. kill livestock? How would those humans know that this is an animal used to people? Wouldn’t they just shoot it on sight? A lion is a social animal, the only truly social cat; it grows up in its pride and is taught everything it knows by that pride – socialisation, play, how to hunt, what to hunt. Humans cannot teach them that, especially not by letting hundreds of strangers manhandle it as a baby. This is definitely not what Joy and George Adamson had in mind in Born Free...... This is NOT conservation.

The truth is that these cubs, once too big for petting (at around 3-4 months), get passed on to lion walking – once they are too big (too dangerous) for that, they go back to the breeders. For the next few years they live in small camps with dozens of others, growing. All that time they are monitored – if it looks as though their manes are not going to be large, they are killed as no hunter wants a lion with a small mane. Only the biggest males make it to adulthood.  The rest have their bones shipped to the Far East....they are worth a lot of money. In Vietnam a 15 kg skeleton of a lion is mixed with approximately 6 kg of turtle shell, deer antler and monkey bone and then boiled down in large pots over a three day period. This yields about 6-7 kg of “tiger cake”, which is worth at least US$60,000 - $70,000 in Vietnam.

Eventually, the lion has made it to adulthood. He has a huge mane, he is in his prime. But he’s not there to impress females, to forge a territory, to fight off other weaker males – he is there for the bullet. A hunter will pay tens of thousands of US dollars to shoot him, and will be given a guarantee that he will be successful. Mostly the hunter won’t be told that this is a “canned hunt”, but does he/ she care? Have you seen the smug and proud grin on a hunter’s face like the now-famous photos of Melissa Bachmann from 2013?

Is this what you wanted to support when you cuddled that tiny, helpless lion cub? Of course not, you didn’t know that this is what it leads to. I understand that. But now you DO know. So help spread that new-found knowledge please. Tell other soon-to-be travellers. Tell the “voluntours” who want to travel to Africa and do some good – because they too are duped by places like this. Don’t hide your photos if you went to one of these places – it’s okay to have made a mistake that you didn’t know you were making. Now is your chance to do right by those animals that are still in lion parks such as the one you visited. Tell travel agencies and tour operators to stop supporting them. Use social media to spread the word.

Lions need you. There are less than 20 000 left in Africa. In South Africa, we have less than 3000 in the wild – but an estimated 8000 in the canned hunting camps of which up to 1000 are hunted annually.

You can help to stop that. Africa without her lions is unthinkable.

Tags: canned hunting, lion cubs, lion parks, lions, responsible tourism, south africa


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