“Lions should not have interaction with human beings, they should not be used as props. There’s no conservation value in breeding lions in captivity and there’s differently no education value in breeding lions in captivity,” Fiona Miles, country manager of the animal welfare organization Four Paws, told Reuters in Cape Town.
To train them to be submissive to and entertain humans, young cubs are often removed from their mothers. This causes huge distress to both. And the space available in most enclosures is far too small to meet their natural roaming instincts, she added.
“Lion cubs that are removed from their mothers after just a few days after being born are very distressed initially. They miss their mummies and they miss out on very valuable and important nutrition right from day one basically,” Miles said.
South Africa’s tourism association, SATSA issued new guidelines condemning the common practice of breeding big game animals in captivity for the entertainment of tourists. In Africa, the big game animals are lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants, and Cape buffalo.
Andre La Cock, who runs the Johannesburg Lion & Safari park thinks the guidelines are wrongheaded. “Our lions lead very happy lives,” he said. “We do admit that if cubs are needed for cub interaction, we sometimes remove the cubs from their mothers. This is obviously stressful for the mother and we regret that it is necessary.”
SATSA is calling on animal breeders to end all entertainment involving performing animals and stop all up-close interactions with big game, including activities such as walking with predators and riding on elephants that have drawn hundreds of thousands of tourists over the years.
The guidelines are non-binding, and the government’s tourism department, while welcoming them, has no plans to ban animal interactions, which remain a significant pillar of South Africa’s tourism sector.