Have you been considering going abroad to South Africa to volunteer with big cats or seen ads that peaked your interest by advertising a conservation study abroad trip?
First I’d like to say that I admire your intentions.
Wanting to spend your money and time on contributing to the conservation of animals is something I wish more people would do. The best way to make a difference is indeed to get in and get your hands dirty.
However, sometimes people with good intentions are taken advantage of and tricked into doing something that goes against their own morals.
This is something I learned on my very first trip to South Africa (2016) when I visited the Southern African Wildlife College. One of our fantastic instructors made me aware of a problem I never knew existed.
It turns out that sometimes your tourism and love of animals can lead to their detriment if you don’t do your research. Sometimes “sanctuaries” in South Africa don’t tell you the truth about where the animals you’re “saving” are going to end up.
“How?” “What?” “I would never find myself in a situation where my money goes to something I don’t believe in!”
You’d be surprised. Advertising and false information can trick even the most passionate animal lovers. In fact, thousands of people visit the facilities I’ll be talking about today every year. The sad thing is, most of them would never have visited if they knew the consequences.
There are a couple of tourism opportunities that are highly unethical, but the one I’m going to cover today is based on lions and it is a HUGE problem in South Africa!
You all probably know that lions are an animal that are near and dear to my heart. The first big cat I ever worked with was a lioness and during my field guide training I grew an even bigger appreciation for them when I saw their pure power in the wild. I even have a lioness tattoo on my arm!
However, in South Africa, lions are plagued by an absolutely horrific business called canned hunting. In fact, there are over 7,000 captive bred lions in this industry in South Africa and over 200 breeding farms.
How does it work? Well, I’ll tell you!
Cubhood and Volunteer Opportunities
The lions are bred in captivity. The newborn cubs are taken to tourist attractions where people from abroad can “volunteer”, go on walks with the cats, or have a cub petting experience.
The volunteers and guests are convinced that they’re going on a conservation-based trip and that they are contributing to the health and stability of the species they’ll be working with,
However, they end up contributing to the slaughter of these big cats in the end and fueling the canned hunting trade. They provide free work and income for the facilities that ultimately end up sending the lions to a trophy farm to be killed.
On to the Hunters:
After the lions reach an age where they’re desirable to trophy hunters (usually over 4 years old) they are taken to be hunted.
These lions were born into captivity and they always remain in captivity. They will be shot in their own cages. They cannot escape. It is not true hunting. There is no chase. There are minimal rules and it is not ethical in any sense.
Approximately 800 captive-bred lions are shot by trophy hunters per year in South Africa.
What Can Be Done?
Are you appalled? Want to make sure you don’t contribute to the slaughter of captive lions in South Africa? Here are a few steps you can take:
- Rule of thumb with animal tourism: Trust your gut. If it seems sketchy, it probably is! Don’t do it!!!
- If you’re in South Africa, why are you even at a zoo or captive wildlife place? Visit a game reserve. Your visit will contribute to keeping those areas wild. Game reserves cannot stay protected if they are not bringing in money. Plus, there’s nothing more awesome then seeing the beauty of wild Africa and photograph wild lions.
- Do research on any facility that advertises volunteer opportunities in South Africa. Make sure that the animals who live there are given a forever home and that all their cats are not all “perfect” looking trophy animals. Do not fall for advertising tricks. Be wary of places that throw around the word “conservation” like it means nothing or places that promise an interaction with cubs.
- If you visit any captive big cat place as a guest, not a volunteer, still make sure it is truly a rescue. An example of a fantastic and ethical wildlife sanctuary in South Africa is the Born Free Foundation. I have personally been there and I’ve seen their facility. Their enclosures are spacey, the animals are well taken care of, and they provide a FOREVER home to animals who were previously abused. This particular sanctuary is actually placed inside of Shamwari Private Game Reserve which is a fantastic way to allow these animals to be as close to wild as possible.
Here’s the bad news: Canned hunting is real and it is rampant in South Africa. It has absolutely no conservation value. It does not bring funds to game reserves. It takes advantage of good hearted people and fuels the greed of others.
Here’s the good news: Knowledge is power. The more people who know about this practice and refuse to take part in it, the better. Be aware of the problem and don’t get involved in fueling it. Make tourism choices that help the environment and avoid those who exploit or abuse animals. Share your knowledge with others.
It all starts with one person. Be the one who takes that initiative and stands for change! Share this blog to let others know about the horror that is canned hunting and help them make eco-friendly tourism choices.