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Location: Erindi, Namibia, 2018
Perspectives unseen, but known to one’s eye, the other true.
Too often I see photos of lion cubs, close-ups, captured at lion parks. Petting zoos. Novelty attractions where tourists can interact with Lion cubs, often named Simba, or Nala, to further stoke the novelty associated with petting Africa’s most recognizable predator.
This photo was captured using a special remote camera box that I built with my team at a nature reserve in Namibia called Erindi. I‘ve been experimenting for years with how to capture a more intimate and ultimately peculiar perspective of lions. To explore their genuine curiosity and to help people understand their natural wild tendency a bit more without the need to literally interact with them. When discussing the topic, this outlook often leads me down the rabbit-hole, so to speak, on the worst issues facing wildlife tourism. You may or may not have heard about the canned hunting industry, but I‘ll explain a little bit about it now and how it ties to cub petting.
Tourist activities offering the petting of lion cubs at self-proclaimed “sanctuaries” is NOT conservation, but a highly deceptive form of tourism engaging in factory farming and blatant exploitation of a species struggling to survive in the wild.
Unsuspecting tourists are consistently fooled into thinking that their participation in hand-rearing newborn cubs, often portrayed falsely as “rescues”, is helpful. But the reality is that these organizations have only one intention and that is to make money. There is absolutely no conservation value whatsoever in bottle-feeding, petting, and taking selfies with lion cubs. None.
In fact, it’s horribly detrimental since these organizations are routinely hyper-breeding lions for the sole purposes of tourism and personal gain. The breeding process is horrific. Cubs are taken from their mothers within days after being born, forcing the females to enter a new breeding cycle prematurely and causing enormous stress to the cubs and the mother lion. The cubs are then raised with persistent human contact and can never be released into the wild because they lack the skills to survive.
As soon as the cubs are too old and dangerous for selfies with tourists they’re either subject to seclusion and neglect or worse. They’re sold into the canned lion hunting industry to be shot at close range by hunters in a fenced enclosure where they have no chance of escape.
It’s a harsh truth... but the reason I write about this now is that in the past few years I’ve more frequently seen images of people posing with lion cubs. People volunteering for extended periods of time at these so-called “conservation” outfits is the most common... my hunch is that these tourists just don’t know. If you’ve read up to now and this is news to you, that's okay. Most of the people I speak to about this are totally unaware.
And what can you do to stop these terrible practices? Well, first off is to take the knowledge you have about this topic now and share it with friends. If you hear about anyone potentially planning an experience like this (whenever that's possible again), encourage them to explore other options. If you love lions the best thing you can do is to visit places where you can see native populations of lions in the wild. Places like Erindi in Namibia.
Next, if you want to learn more, you can watch a powerful documentary called Blood Lions. It‘s quite intense, so it‘s not for everyone, but you‘ll understand the issues much better for sure.
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