Update, 1 June 2015:
Why you shouldn’t be petting predators…
Yes, even the cute baby lions.
My folks have a pic of me as a 2 year old, smiling as I happily played with a lion cub. Were they crazy? Admittedly, the concept of responsible tourism wasn’t around in the 80’s, but did they not realize that a lion is a predator? Predator babies are not domestic animals, and should not be exposed to humans.
Of course they’re cute and cuddly but do we really have to pet them?
I visited a lion park in Gauteng some years back when a foreign friend I was hosting at the time suggested it. Though I felt uneasy as I took pictures of my friend petting the baby lions, I couldn’t resist a little pet myself. I wondered how the park could always ensure a steady supply of baby lions and what the future of these lion cubs was.
I am very uncomfortable with the concept of lion cub petting zoos and volunteer projects that masquerade as conservation programmes. Sadly this has become a valuable industry with little oversight or regulation. The concept of petting a baby predator is often sold under the guises of conservation education, research, even responsible tourism. Next time you think about petting a baby lion, think about the future of a predator that has been socialised with humans.
This post is long overdue as this issue has been bothering me for a while. I know its controversial but its time to raise awareness on this issue. A friend shared the article below by the South African NSPCA on the issue of humans interacting with predator babies. It raises many ethical issues surrounding lion breeding projects.
Human Interaction With Predator Babies
Every year thousands of people interact not only with lion cubs but numerous other wild cat babies such as tigers, cheetahs, leopard and caracal but seldom ask what happens to these cubs when they grow too big for the facilities to manage them.
Most game reserve establishments are not interested in having hand raised lions on their property because not only have they have lost their fear of humans and pose a threat to people but there is also the risk of introducing diseases as well as undesirable genetic faults into the wild lion population. Hand raised lions are difficult to reintroduce not only to the wild but to other lions as well.
The reality in South Africa is that we have no more space for lions.
Free roaming wild lions are threatened due to habitat destruction and loss of protected areas for them to live in and not for the want of the animals themselves. Unfortunately the lion breeding projects in South Africa are purely money driven and have precious little to do with conservation. The lions in these projects are genetically compromised due to excessive in breeding and have little to no value for genetic conservation even if there was space to release them.
There is substantial evidence to suggest that these animals are often sold or returned to a predator breeding facility from which they are often sold on as trophies into the very lucrative canned hunting industry which has thrived in South Africa in the last 12 years. Some are sold overseas into animal collections where, due to ignorance or apathy, their nutritional, environmental and psychological requirements are not met. The animals that remain are often condemned to spend the rest of their lives in inadequately small enclosures with substandard care being used as breeding machines for the next generation of photo cubs.
Some may argue that there is educational value in allowing people to handle wild animals. However this kind of education provides the incorrect message that wild animals exist for human entertainment – that they can be petted like domestic animals, and that they have value only in captivity and not in their natural habitats.
Cubs are often taken away from their mothers to stimulate faster reproduction and so keep up a constant supply of petting lions. Visitors pay to pet the animal and have their photograph taken with it, and either do not consider the animal’s situation and what will happen to it when it grows up, or they assume that there is a conservation effort associated with petting lions. The NSPCA therefore urges members of the public to carefully consider the long term implications for these animals.