INTERACTIVE TOURISM AND VOLUNTOURISM: DOES THE INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL INDUSTRY HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY?

INTERACTIVE TOURISM AND VOLUNTOURISM: DOES THE INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL INDUSTRY HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY?

It seems to be becoming more and more apparent that the international tourism industry is moving away from all forms of exploitative wildlife interactive tourism and voluntourism. Following on from the recent SATSA conference where the issue of wild animal interactions was vigorously debated,

South African leading tourism organizations are now engaged in discussions around what is deemed to be “responsible and ethical tourism”. It is estimated that there are approximately 8000 captive bred predators being held in small enclosures on 200 breeding farms across the country, very often in cramped conditions with few welfare protocols in place. Most of these facilities offer cub petting, bottle feeding and/or lion walking tourism activities, as well as volunteer opportunities whereby young volunteers may pay up to US$4,000 per month to look after these young animals until such time as they can be killed (for their trophies and/or their bones to be exported to Asia for the bone trade) or shipped off to zoos around the world.

Scientists have repeatedly stated that most of these predator breeding programs have nothing to do with conservation and that they are purely commercial operations making no contribution to the conservation of free roaming lion populations, and that they also do not contribute to education as they do not offer scientifically accepted practices of teaching conservation and animal ecology.

Simply put, these lions are not “orphans” as they have been removed from their mothers within days of birth to induce rapid breeding cycles.

Furthermore, ecologists say it is not practical to rehabilitate captive-bred lions which have not only been hand-raised and bottle fed, but have also lost their fear of humans. Research also shows us that captive bred predators are unlikely to be able to survive in the wild, and that even if this were possible, it would not be considered a viable conservation option as most are genetically compromised due to inbreeding.

So what are some of the questions now being asked by the international tourism industry? What is the reason that South Africa has so many of these facilities… so many sanctuaries… so many rehabilitation and wildlife centers? Are international tourists and volunteers being misled by claims that the animals are “orphans and will be re-wilded” once adults? Where do all the cubs come from, and where do all the adult lions go? Do the breeding facilities meet conservation, scientific and welfare mandates…

or are they purely commercial operations? Are critical conservation funds and volunteer efforts being diverted from wild conservation and scientific research projects? Are the volunteer recruitment agencies being secretive about divulging full details of these projects? How do tourists and volunteers find recognized, authentic projects to support?”

It is true that bona fide sanctuaries around the world offer their animals a “home for life”, with no breeding, trading or any kind of interactive tourism activities.

At the end of the day, no international tourist or volunteer would voluntarily support any cycle of exploitation such as that faced by these predators… and other species. It is crucial that proper research
is conducted by before visiting any of these facilities, and that appropriate answers are provided.

The feature documentary Blood Lions™ and subsequent Blood Lions Campaign (www.bloodlions.org) have played an important role in highlighting these issues and stimulating the debate. And this can be measured by the fact that many key travel organizations from around the world have now distanced themselves from these types of activities. Over 100 leading tourism operators have already signed the Blood Lions “Born to Live Wild” Pledge committing to: endorse responsible and authentic tourism activities; promote South Africa as a wild, rewarding and authentic destination; and to support the conservation of wild lions in their natural habitat.

Earlier this year the Blood Lions “Born to Live Wild” Campaign won Joint “Overall Winner” at the African Responsible Tourism Awards (ARTA17) at WTM Cape Town, as well as the Gold Award for “Best Responsible Tourism Campaign”

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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