Due warning, if you have ever walked with lions, petted cubs, or volunteered for abandoned cub raising organisations, this is going to be hard, but all the more imperative to read.
The sheer size, strength and grace of a lion can only be fully appreciated in the flesh. When I first came face to face with the King of Africa, I was immediately struck by the intensity of his eyes, the lustre of his mane, and shine of his coat. In this moment, I wished to be closer to him, to be able to touch him; the steel fence between us to be removed.
It’s this desire that is preyed upon for the success of the “walking with lions”, “cub petting”, and volunteer based “cub rearing” experiences in South Africa.
These organisations claim that cubs have been abandoned by their mothers, and promise the cubs will eventually be released into the wild, or will live out their days in sanctuaries.
The truth behind the lives of these amazing creatures is far more sinister.
The reality is that cubs are born on breeding farms, immediately taken from their mother, and put into petting and volunteer rearing organisations. The moment these cubs are taken from their mothers, they are doomed; without learning to hunt and survive, they will never have any chance of release into the wild, regardless of the promises the organisations make to volunteers and customers. Full disclosure, I have been to cub interaction places; I was fooled, and hold nothing against you if you were too. If anything, this empowers us as avenues of awareness.
The cycle of these cub farms is horrific. When the cub has grown enough, it is then sent to “walking with lions” tourist attractions, where they are often beaten into submission with sticks, and trained to walk alongside people. Disturbingly, when you see photos or videos of people walking with lions, they carry a “walking stick”. In reality, this is a stick that has been used to beat the lion, and keeps the lion from coming too close to the tourists.
The grim reality of the big cat industry in South Africa does not end here. Once the lions reach puberty and become more unpredictable for safe tourist interactions (they aren’t domesticated animals!), they return to the farm where they were born, and used for breeding, further exacerbating this vicious cycle.
The horrifying finale to this process sickens me to my core. Once the animals have surpassed their useful breeding lives, or have grown to “trophy size”, they are shot by tourists in canned hunts.
When I first came to South Africa, I had no idea what canned hunting was, so I’ll provide a quick, and gut-wrenching outline;
The cubs are raised by humans, forced to walk beside and interact with humans, fed by humans in vehicles, and as a result, boldly approach people and vehicles with little suspicion.
These animals are expecting food, and instead receive an execution style death. No, hold that, “execution” is not a fair descriptor; the type of people paying to do the “hunting” are rarely adept with a weapon, and thus the deaths prolonged and filled with pain.
There are a number of avenues to combat this sickening cycle. By raising awareness, true educational sanctuaries like Panthera Africa aim to reduce the consumer demand for interaction activities like cub petting and walking with lions, with the ultimate goal of outlawing and stamping out canned hunting (how is it even legal!!). In addition, big cat commodities such as lion and tiger bones in the Asian medicine market, are huge drivers of “lion farming” demand.
From an economic standpoint: Only when the supply chain of animal interaction, such as cub petting, and the end-product demand, such as canned hunting and bone trade are stamped out; only then will this horrifying cycle of deception, exploitation and pain end.
Panthera Africa can be found at: pantheraafrica.com
Full disclosure, I’m a pragmatic, hard line scientifically minded person, and writing an emotionally charged exposure article is a long way outside my comfort zone. For this reason, I have to make it clear. This an opinion piece, written from my own experiences, and accounts from those involved in the industry. The goal of this article is to educate, start a conversation, and encourage people to research deeper into the preconceptions they may already carry. Furthermore, my comments do not extend to all organisations, but they do apply to the vast majority. All I ask is that you do some research, Panthera Africa is in my experience, an outstanding place to start.