Interactive Wildlife Tourism

Written by Cath Jakins, Campaign Coordinator

Published on 20 Jun, 2019

During the months of April and May, I had the privilege of attending two internationally recognised travel and trade shows in South Africa with the Blood Lions team: World Travel Market (WTM) Africa in Cape Town and Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban. Neither of these travel shows are open to the public like normal exhibitions, instead attendees are international buyers, travel operators and media personnel from around the world.

Our aim at these shows was to engage with the tourism industry and garner support for our Blood Lions ‘Born To Live Wild’ tourism campaign. The campaign is based on a pledge which has been signed by over 160 tourism operators around the world who do not support the captive breeding, canned hunting and commercial exploitation of wild animal species.

By signing the pledge, tourism operators are committing to “not knowingly book or support any breeder or operator that contributes to the cycle of breeding, exploitation and senseless killing of predators. This includes all petting and ‘walking with lion’ facilities.” Those who sign the pledge also commit to securing the survival of Africa’s predators in the wild by supporting and promoting “Africa as an authentic, wild and ethical tourism destination.”

My colleagues and I met with over 50 international and local buyers and tourism operators at both WTM and Indaba. Only about 30% of those we met with knew about Blood Lions or the interactive wildlife tourism industry. I was, and still am, shocked by this level of ignorance and naivety from the tourism industry.

I normally start my discussions with people by asking if they know anything about Blood Lions and the negative effects of interactive wildlife activities, like cub petting and ‘walking with lion’ attractions. Almost every person I spoke to at these travel shows knew what I meant when I said ‘interactive tourism’ or ‘cub petting’, and they could even name a few places that offered these activities; but majority of those I spoke to were shocked at the information I was giving them. I showed people our animated Life Cycle of a Captive Bred Lion clip and watched their faces turn from shock to dismay as the realisation kicked in.

With the term ‘Responsible Tourism’ becoming a buzz-word in the global tourism industry, it amazed me how few tourism operators knew the truth behind what is really going on in South Africa.

What is ‘interactive tourism’ you ask?

Well, when you Google the term ‘interactive tourism’, the top search result conveniently is an article off the Blood Lions website from 2017 titled “Interactive tourism and voluntourism”. Although this is great for Blood Lions exposure, that particular article doesn’t give a concise definition of what ‘interactive tourism’ actually is.

The ‘interactive wildlife tourism’ that I am referring to is any tourist attraction that allows you (the tourist) to encounter and physically interact with a ‘wild’ animal being held in captivity. The interactive wildlife tourism industry includes everything from lion cub petting to elephant-back riding and ‘walking with lion’ activities. In May of this year, National Geographic released an article titled “Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism” reporting the results of an investigation into the ‘dismal lives’ lead by captive animals used for wildlife tourism encounters. According to the article by Natasha Daly and Kirsten Luce, “Wildlife tourism isn’t new, but social media is setting the industry ablaze, turning encounters with exotic animals into photo-driven bucket-list toppers”.

With tell-all articles like this out there and ‘responsible tourism’ becoming more common, it really surprises me how few people in the tourism industry are fully aware of the impact that these interactive activities have on the animals involved. The reality is that, by interacting with ‘wild’ animals in captivity, tourists and volunteers are contributing to the never-ending cycle of cruelty and abuse. The same animals that are used for interactions may well have been bred under intensive agricultural conditions and, if they are not shot in a hunt, could end up as part of the lion bone trade.


But there are good places to visit, right?

Well, yes, you do get bona vide sanctuaries that offer their (normally rescued) animals a home for life and DO NOT breed, trade or allow human interaction with their animals. We simply urge people to educate themselves and to ask the right questions before considering visiting a facility:

  • Do they offer any activities based on animal and human interaction?
  • If it claims to be a sanctuary, do they offer life-long care for their animals?
  • Are they trading in animals?
  • Where did all the animals come from and where do some of them go?
  • Who is their recognised predator ecologist or scientist?
  • Have any of their animals been released into the wild? And if so, where and when?

Our suggestion to tourists coming to Africa is to rather visit one of our many incredible National Parks and true wilderness areas to see wild lions in their natural habitat.

In addition to asking the right questions and being a responsible tourist, we call on the travel and tourism industry to join the Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ campaign by signing the Born to Live Wild pledge. By signing the pledge and adding their logos to the webpage, travel operators pledge against the exploitation of our wildlife and commit to supporting and promoting the formal conservation community in their endeavours to secure the survival of Africa’s predators in the wild.

Visit the Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ webpage:

‘Sign’ the Born to Live Wild pledge by emailing your tourism company logo to

The NSPCA has huge animal welfare concerns for the animals exploited in the captive predator and canned hunting industry in South Africa. This industry is unregulated, uncontrolled and is responsible for untold cruelty. It is a tragedy that our wild animals are reduced to profit making machines. Coupled with this members of public are unwittingly encouraging and supporting this cruelty, so it is vital that the public are aware of the truth behind the industry so they can make informed decisions and hopefully choose not to support such an unethical industry.

Sr.Ainsley Hay, Manager, NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit

Breeding magnificent wild creatures like lions in camps so that they can be slaughtered for ego and money is unconscionable and should be outlawed.  Lions have the right to live in the wild and to continue playing their unique role within the ecological communities of Africa.  The continued existence of the canned hunting industry is a moral outrage that diminishes us all.  This important film shines a light into the dark corners of this ugly business.

Cormac Cullinan, Cullinan & Associates Incorporated

Cruel, barbaric, macabre – all words used by Australian MPs about lion farming and the canned lion hunting industry in SA.  Our campaign was glad to be able to assist and participate in a full length documentary that aims to expose a brutal industry whose whole business model is routine, egregious cruelty to helpless animals – for fun.

Chris Mercer, Founder, CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting)

Captive lions have long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape and their tragic story needed to be exposed before these practices negatively impacted on Brand South Africa. Congratulations to all involved in taking the time and making this happen.

Colin Bell, Tourism consultant and author of “Africa’s Finest”

“As a travel and conservation based organization, we find the “Blood Lions” documentary deeply disturbing. Despite being hard to watch, we urge people to get out there and see it. It is important to shed light on the dark and corrupt business of rearing lions for the purposes of hunting, in hopes of making a positive change. As we polled our membership, we found that individually each of our companies have chosen to stop booking all activities that contribute to this industry.”

The Safari Professionals – 30 Tour Operators based in the US and Canada

South Africa’s failure to address the canned hunting industry has emboldened those who make a living out of the death of lions bred, raised and slaughtered on a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis. The canned hunting industry is unnatural, unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. It undermines conservation and creates a moral vacuum now inhabited by the greed and grotesque self-importance of those who derive pleasure in the taking of life.

Blood Lions lays bare the truth behind the canned hunting industry that, far from contributing to the future survival of the species, may, in fact, accelerate extinction in the wild, leaving behind a trail  littered with rotting corpses of its helpless and hopeless victims.

Will Travers OBE, President Born Free Foundation

The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, in providing support for the making of this Documentary, does so in the firm belief that it is important that the true facts behind captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting in South Africa, is brought to the attention of a global audience in order to create awareness which in turn will lead to much needed change.

Les Ward MBE, Chairman, The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust

This is a timely, courageous as well as a deeply disturbing documentary. It is at the same time, a voice for the wild and the voiceless … of saying “NO MORE!” to that terrible triad of financial opportunism, deceit and indifference to the non-human animal by those claiming to be conservationists.

Ian McCallum – Author, poet, psychiatrist and naturalist

With the constant pressure on wildlife, every effort must be made to keep our last vestiges of natural fauna and flora protected.    Canned hunting of any kind, along with the related consequences, must be condemned by humanity as not only a travesty of nature but also an utterly inhumane practise.   Taming lion cubs only to later hunt them is an utterly inhumane practice.   It is pseudo-hunting, a complete sham and does not even qualify as hunting on a sustainable use basis.   Wildlife conservation has to evolve into practices that are ethical, humanitarian and sustainable. This will not be achieved if there is not real and fair community involvement which has not been part of the hunting fraternity’s evolution.

Yvette Taylor, Executive Director, The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation

“Canned lion ‘hunting’ is nothing less than a bargain basement opportunity for foreign hunters to engage in one of South Africa’s most sordid practices. Hunting of captive bred lions entirely dependent on human fingerprints from cub to trophy is immoral, unethical and against all animal welfare concerns. The fact that it still continues as profitable commerce is a damning statement against all of us who have not properly engaged to snuff it out. Blood Lions is a good start to bring change.”

Dr Pieter Kat – Director: LionAid

Canned Lion