Over 200 lion parks, roadside zoos and scamtuaries in South Africa offer tourists and volunteers the chance of a lifetime. They pay to bottle-feed, cuddle and interact with very young lion cubs. All in the name of conservation. Social Media is flooded with heart-warming images of visitors cuddling lion cubs. Lions walking peacefully alongside volunteers. However, the interaction with these animals is falsely portrayed. The petted cubs are anything but safe, loved and rescued from an otherwise doomed life.
The cycle of a captive bred lion’s life begins with being taken from its mother at around 3 days to 3 weeks old. They are then raised by volunteers.
Often people are told, the cubs are orphans. They would eventually be released into the wild, but this is completely untrue. This has never happened and probably never will. The lionesses are forced into constant breeding. Further on, tourists pay to cuddle cubs and once they’re too big, they’re trained to go on ‘lion walks’. Of course, tourists pay for that privilege. Once they are too dangerous for that activity, some are sold for canned hunts. Finally, they are shot by dodgy trophy hunters in fenced areas from which they cannot escape. Or, they are killed for their bones, to end up as Tiger wine in Asia.
Little Serabie was saved,
but (probably ten-)thousands of captive lions in almost 300 facilities in South Africa wait to be shot by a trophy hunter or killed in a Lion slaughterhouse for their bones. Read here about how Serabie was saved. While this wildlife heroine risked a great deal to rescue lion cub Serabie, it is strongly recommended that prospective volunteers do not try to do the same. Sadly there are here are only very few safe places for rescued lion cubs. Basically, there are less than a handful of real sanctuaries.
Each year, thousands of paying volunteers are told the same lies, how petting of lion cubs would benefit the species: *
Lie #1: Volunteering at these ‘animal sanctuaries’ promotes conservation. Google ‘gap year’ and ‘big cats volunteer’ and you will get millions of results. Establishments offer well-intending but ill-informed gap year students the chance to interact with lion cubs. They pay willingly for “contributing towards conservation and research.” Not all of these organizations are what they claim to be.
Lie #2: The cubs are orphans whose parents were killed by poachers or were rejected by their mother. Most of these establishments spin sob stories to gullible tourists about the animals’ mothers abandoning them at birth, or their parents being killed by poachers. These cubs are removed from their mother as young as possible and hand raised. The reason this is done is twofold: Firstly the cubs raise funds through interaction. The second reason is that the mother will go into season again. She will reproduce more rapidly than if she was allowed to raise her own young.
Lie #3: When they are adults, the cubs will be re-introduced into the wild. Lion cubs learn from their parents how to hunt and interact with other lions. A hand raised animal will never gain this experience. There is a certain instinctual knowledge on hunting but not successful hunting. It is highly improbable that a lion raised in captivity will be able to survive. Once it’s placed back into a wild environment it will be killed by wild Lions.
Lie #4: Lion breeders are contributing towards the dwindling numbers of lions in the wild. No captive-bred lions have ever been released back to the wild. Conservation authorities will never ever allow it because of genetic and veterinary reasons.
Lie #5: Posing with these animals teaches children the value of conservation and makes them appreciate the animals more. Interaction with wild animals has no positive influence on the animals. Animals that are utilized for human interaction will invariably become habituated. They will lose any fear of humans. With habituation, the risk of the animal causing injury to another person is increasing. As it is the risk of disease transfer. Ethically any interaction between a human and an animal merely opens the door to risk to the animal and ultimately lowers the welfare of the animal.
The international lion bone trade that is supplied by the South African captive-bred lion industry. It is fuelling an increased demand for wild lion bones in Asia.
A hands-off approach will be just as beneficial towards any conservation program. It will also maintain the welfare of the animals. A direct interaction operation will claim that it aids conservation. But it ignores the fact that it does this at the cost of the welfare of every animal living at the facility.