By Chere Di Boscio
Many of us dream of it. And the pictures are compelling: animal-loving tourists bottle-feeding, snuggling, playing and walking with, ‘orphaned’ lions.
But guess what? It’s all a scam.
South African actress and wildlife advocate Pearl Thusi is collaborating with Humane Society International/Africa to warn travellers to South Africa not to visit lion cub petting and walking tours. Despite what they may say about ‘rescuing’ orphaned lions, these facilities actually breed lions in captivity, usually under quite nasty conditions, exploit their cubs for photo opportunities, and then do something disgusting: they sell these beautiful creatures to be shot by trophy hunters in canned hunts, or kill the animals for Asia’s lion-bone trade.
Thusi, who appeared in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Quantico, and HSI/Africa launched their Snuggle Scam awareness-raising campaign on World Lion Day this year. The actress knows full well how well-meaning travellers can be fooled into financing the cruel captive-breeding lion industry.
“It’s been my life’s dream to make a change for wild animals and be part of the system that loves, appreciates and protects them. I pledge to do my best to learn, grow and fight for the rights of Africa’s wild lion and all animals that need the same assistance,” she said. “Now that I know the truth behind the captive lion breeding industry and the sad exploitation of these lions from birth to death, I am horrified that this is how we treat the ‘King of the Jungle’. We should promote Africa as an authentic, wild and rewarding tourism destination and not support this industry. I know that together we can all make a difference and improve things for wildlife and humanity.”
In nature, baby lions stay with their mothers for a year and a half, and females rest for at least 15-24 months between litters. However, cubs born on breeding farms are ripped away from their mothers when they are a few days – or even a few hours – old to be used as living photo props for tourists.
The removal of cubs is distressing for both mother and cub, and forces the female into an exhausting breeding cycle whilst being locked up in a tiny enclosure, sometimes without adequate food, hygiene, or the ability to express any natural behaviour.
Unsuspecting volunteers from all over the world pay thousands of dollars to hand-raise them, but what few of them know is that once the cubs are no longer cute and cuddly, they are used for lion walking experiences. When they grow too large and dangerous for that activity, some are sold for canned hunts, where they are shot by cowardly trophy hunters in fenced areas from which they cannot escape. Others are slaughtered for the bone trade—mainly for use in bogus ‘medicinal’ tonics in Asia.
Audrey Delsink, Acting Executive Director and Wildlife Director of HSI/Africa says, “Most people come to South Africa because they love lions and other wild animals. They would be shocked to learn that the cute lion cubs they pose with for selfies will one day be killed for profit. We are thrilled to work with Pearl to raise awareness of the ‘Snuggle Scam,’ to urge people to stay away from these facilities, and instead to see these magnificent animals in the wild where they belong.”
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- Only about 20,000 lions remain in the wild in Africa.
- Between 6,000 and 8,000 lions are suffering in captivity in some 260 facilities across South Africa, marketed to tourists as lion interaction experiences. With fewer than 3,000 wild lions, South Africa has more lions languishing in captivity than in the wild.
- Lions are a threatened species, listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibits the trade of bones from wild lions, it does allow South Africa to export bones from captive ones.
- It is impossible to differentiate body parts from wild vs. captive lions, so the legal export of captive lion bones facilitates the illegal export of wild lion bones.
- It is difficult to distinguish between lion and tiger bone, so the legal trade in captive lion bones also undermines efforts to stop the trade in tiger bones, which is completely illegal.
Please visit www.hsi.org/bloodlions