Last week, big cat petting facilities were once again in the news for all the wrong reasons, with a cheetah attacking a teen from New Zealand at Emdoneni Safari Park in KZN.

In that same week, Brent Lindeque contacted me and shared his story. He recently visited a lion facility with overseas friends, happily petted a lion and posted the proof on social media. Needless to say, it created a minor storm.

Brent, as with so many others, was innocently but sadly ill-informed about the implications of big cat petting, an activity that initially seems so harmless. An activity, however, that is highly unethical and has major ramifications for the animals involved. He acknowledges that his choice at the time was far from ideal.

However, it is not the fact that we make mistakes in life, as we all do at some point, what matters is what we do with the learning experience. Brent wants to turn his error into a positive by raising awareness of the issues of lion cub petting in South Africa among the Good Things Guy readers.

He asked me to give you the facts. So, let’s debunk some myths.

Myth 1: Big cats used for petting and walking activities are rescued animals.

False. A few may be injured or orphaned big cats that could not be returned to the wild, but the vast majority of these animals come from the 200+ breeding facilities in South Africa that house collectively an estimated 6,000-8,000 captive bred predators. About 7,000 are lions and the remainder are cheetah, leopard and even tigers.

Myth 2: The hand-reared cubs are orphaned.

False. Most lion cubs born on these breeding farms are actively removed from their mother by the staff, sometimes within hours of birth.

Removing the cubs from a healthy mother and bottle feeding them, does not only habituate the cubs, but also encourages the females to breed again more quickly. A captive lioness can therefore produce as many as 2-3 litters per year, whereas in the wild she would only have about one litter every three years.

The hand rearing often involves paying visitors like you, or volunteers from other parts of the world, who pay exorbitant amounts of money to the facilities believing they support conservation through lion reintroduction programmes.

Myth 3: The big cats used for petting and walking are domesticated.

False. These lions and cheetahs are wild cats and are not domesticated. The process of domestication involves selecting specific characteristics you want in an animal and breeding with the individuals that display these features. This process can take many generations and even involves genetic changes over time.

Captive big cats are merely habituated to humans through hand rearing. Further conditioning is instilled through hands-on activities, like cub petting and walking that also generates further income for the farm/facility.

However, as we saw again this week, the behaviour of these habituated big cats remains unpredictable.

Myth 4: Hands-on big cat encounters support conservation and these animals are ultimately reintroduced into the wild.

False. Once the habituated lions have matured and are too dangerous to serve as tourist or volunteer props, they are offered for canned trophy hunting on their own farm or sold to other canned hunting establishments. In South Africa, every day 2-3 lions are killed in canned hunts and annually 100s of captive lions are euthanised, so their bones and other body parts can be sold to the Asian traditional medicine market.

The cute lion cub that you can pet is purely “bred for the bullet”, as Blood Lions puts it.

Many conservationists believe that captive bred lions have little or no conservation value, as they are poorly suited for survival and release back into the wild. Luke Hunter, head of the global big cat conservation organisation Panthera, goes as far as to state that captive lion reintroduction programmes in South Africa operate under a “conservation myth”.

Even reintroduction programmes with, for example, cheetahs have shown limited success and are not considered to be of value to the wild populations.

Myth 5: Hands-on activities are needed to generate income for the upkeep of the captive animals.

False. Although these facilities clearly need to earn an income to house, feed and care for their animals, there is no need for this to be generated through hands-on activities.

Many real sanctuaries, such as South African Animal Sanctuary AllianceLionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary, and Panthera Africa, prove that you can run a financially sound business solely based on strict no breeding and no touching policies. Real sanctuaries provide forever homes to captive bred animals that cannot be released into the wild.

What petting farms offer is animal exploitation and is highly unethical and irresponsible. It is purely for the sake of economic gain and our entertainment. Solely, so we can experience these magnificent and iconic animals up-close, take sensational photos and selfies, and share them with our friends on social media platforms.

Myth 6: The use of so-called ambassador species is OK.

False. Regardless whether you give the animal the fancy title of an ambassador species, hands-on interaction remains unethical and dangerous. It also sends out mixed messages. Why would be OK to walk that one ambassador cheetah on a leash, but not to pet a lion cub?

Our wildlife is unable to stand up for themselves, so we have to give them a voice and it is time for that voice to communicate a very clear and transparent message. A message that makes choices for everybody easy when it comes to picking the right animal and wildlife activities.

A message my mum instilled in me when I was a little girl during shopping trips, as I had a tendency to touch everything in my vicinity, was “you just look with your eyes – not your hands”. A golden rule that should be applied to all wildlife activities.

If in doubt, just follow these simple #HandsOffOurWildlife rules:

The Message is simple

Any activity that:

  • Allows the animal (s) to be touched
  • Trains animals to perform, or
  • Forces animals into unnatural behaviour, such as riding or even walking with people

Should not only be avoided, but BANNED forever.

#AnimalRightsTourism                      #HandsOffWildlife

Back to Media

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