“Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion,
the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Between the release of Disney’s The Lion King 25 years ago until its new photo-realistic computer-animated version of 2019 our planet has lost half of its wild lion population. Half…! If the main reason is habitat loss, it is not the only one why lions are in an alarming state. Other causes are ego for the hunters, greed for the farming, canned lion, and bone trade industries and maybe even worse, a lack of critical sense for some of us often with the best intentions.
A blockbuster about nature is often inspiring, and most take their children to these movies to make them dream. We leave the theatre amazed by the beauty of the wilderness. We want to explore more of it and to enjoy it. In the best cases we realize it is precious and we want it to be preserved for the next generations. However this does not really turn out this way… Remember the excellent Pixar’s Finding Nemo? Did you know that this movie led to the setup of captive breeding programs in Australia to keep up with clown fish demand? Did you know that 90% of clown fish found in aquariums were taken from the wild? Did you know that in South East Asia and more specifically Thailand, Indonesia and The Philippines, clownfish are collected using cyanide poisoning? The already threatened species was propelled to the brink of extinction thanks to a movie which theme was to respect and preserve wildlife…BULLSHIT (mind me, big and smelly LIONSHIT)!
Only the alarming situation of lions is the sad truth. In South Africa there are three times as many lions in captivity (about 8,000 to 10,000) than in the wild (3,000 left in National Parks such as Kruger and private game reserves otherwise referred to as wild), and this gap is increasing. Genes are getting weaker and weaker. For the rest? They are nothing but smartly setup business models with the highest possible return on investment throughout the life and death cycle of the product: lions.
Take a lioness and have her breed as much as possible. Separate her rapidly from her cubs. Advertise for volunteering opportunities in Africa to help save big cats on a well-sought after website preferably with a research and conservation section. Recap your pitch about how these little cubs need our help to get released into the wild. Get a whole lot of nice volunteers to pay a significant amount of money and spend time bottle-feeding, weighing, monitoring and cuddling these vulnerable balls of fur. Work with so-called “ethical” travel agencies to host busloads of tourists to pet some more and take selfies, or to observe the cub feeding. It seems to work pretty well. However, the real truth is that no lioness ever abandons her cubs (but in very, very rare occasions). These lion cubs will never be released into the wild. These volunteers will not contribute to any form of conservation nor research. Instead they will fuel a multi-million Rand industry of which the cub cuddling and feeding is just Part 1…the canned lion industry (of course some of the lionesses are not killed yet and go back into part 1 to breed before being shot later). the bone trade industry. To get a better idea of its extent 800 skeletons were exported in 2017 as well as in 2018.
Bottom line: real-life lions generate more than The Lion King blockbusters throughout these four despicable parts! They are literally exploited to the bone from the minute they get born.Phinda Private Game Reserve, we walk the grounds of Panthera Africa. It is one of the very few organizations that make a positive impact on lions by rescuing them from these horrendous industries and providing them a real sanctuary: no petting allowed, no reproduction. Co-founder Cathrine Nyquist, tells us the heart-breaking stories behind each animal she and her partner Lizaene have rescued. They are devastating. In a nutshell she explains:
“Apart from the lions living in the parks, lions in South Africa are bred in captivity. They live in enclosed spaces often in shocking conditions. Females are used as breeding machines with up to three pregnancies a year. There is no care of the genetics and brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons are all put together to breed; inbreeding is a severe issue. Cubs get weaker suffering from many deficiencies such as vitamin A deficiencies, bad eye sight and weak bone density. At the scale of the species, genes get weaker posing a very serious threat to the species as a whole. Most of these lions can never be reintroduced into even a captive wild, and as the bone trade industry is becoming the new trend, tragically some of the lions are better off being put down. There is a total lack of animal welfare at these places as the only need for them is their bones.”
And this is not an easy task – neither operational, financial nor emotional. Setting up a non-profit company is a challenge in itself, and losing one of their lions to the bone trade industry nearly brought Cathrine to the brink. Financially they have managed to pull through the first difficult 3 years and they are now becoming self-sufficient in the daily running. At Panthera Africa volunteers are welcome to help – and there is plenty of work to do – but they will never pet a lion. The lions that are rescued by Cathrine and Lizaene will simply live happily ever after and won’t reproduce to not contribute to weakening the species.Yes, you can help lions very easily! And here is how:
- Have you noticed the photos on Instagram or Facebook of someone cuddling or feeding a cub, walking or petting a lion? Soon it will be raising a lion cub in the air just like Rafiki in The Lion King. Don’t like these posts! Better, make an impact and question these stupid photos by commenting. It should become shameful to post such photos online. The impact of social media in tourism practices is huge and wildlife can’t afford it.
- Follow legitimate organizations on social media, share their posts and sign their petitions (Panthera Africa is a good start as well as Blood Lions, Claws Out and the Born Free Foundation).
- Obviously you should not even consider participating in a program where you interact closely with lions. Question yourself: touching, cuddling, petting, walking… Don’t! Wildlife. It’s in the name isn’t it?
- Don’t fall for it. Any organization claiming they breed lions for conservation purposes is a scam. Any organization that lets you touch wildlife is a scam (and this is valid for all wildlife). If you come across some, leave a TripAdvisor review denouncing their practices. Don’t be a passive witness and act to help to put an end to the exploitation.
You have a choice: either you feed the breeding industry, or you are a passive witness, or you decide to act. What will be your choice? On our parts, this article is one of our contributions to raising the awareness to avoid that in 25 years from now the only lions in South Africa will be the ones behind metal bars or in photo-reality rendering. Sharing is caring – please help the lions, the wildlife and help us spread the word.
- To know more about the canned lion industry, read the excellent and well-researched Cuddle Me, Kill Me by Richard Peirce.
- A very special thanks goes to Lizaene and Cathrine at Panthera Africa for sharing their knowledge and passion, and for their tremendous work with their beloved big cats.
- Another thanks goes to Blood Lions for their hard work to fight the canned lion indusry and for providing us with information and photos. Watch their impactful documentary.
- We also would like to thank Beth Jennings from Claws Out for providing us with the photos of the cub feeding and petting. Watch her video below showing how easy it is to be deceived.
- From weekly volunteering programs to a short visit to learn the life stories of the rescued big cats, do check out Panthera Africa, easily reachable from Cape Town.
- By visiting a safari park to observe lions in their environment you show that there is more money to make in keeping the lions in the wild rather than behind bars.
- Before you get involved with any volunteering program, refer to Volunteers in Africa Beware to double-check how ethical the organization you are considering is.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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