Big Cats Need To Be Free, Wild And Safe

The cute cub you pet has been removed too soon from its mother. Deprived of the long hours of sleep that cubs need and generally forced into a life a cub would never have in the wild. It is destined for the bullet or the slaughterhouse – canned hunts or for its bones, as these lions are never rehabilitated to go back into the wild. It is incredibly difficult to rehabilitate lions back into the wild – impossible if they have been handreared as cubs.


Parks claim they will have to close if they do not offer cub petting. But we need to ask ourselves, how did these parks survive before the advent of cub petting? And if a business can only survive by profiting off the cruelty of captive wildlife then surely it doesn’t deserve to?


“Animals are sentient beings. They have feelings and needs just like us. All animals are part of an ecosystem and many face extinction due to our behaviour. By ensuring you’re armed with information, you’re not only helping directly by not partaking in any activities that could harm animals, but the power you have to inform others about this can have an incredible impact,” explains FOUR PAWS country director Fiona Miles.

The organisation has a special interest in the welfare of big cats, believing these African ambassadors belong in the wild and should not be kept as pets or for entertainment, or in breeding facilities for hunting and other commercial purposes.

 There are between 8 000 and 12 000 lions living in captivity in South Africa. Instead of contributing to conservation efforts, the overwhelming majority of these captive lions are bred for the lion bone trade or killed in canned hunts, where about 600-1 000 captive lions are killed in trophy hunts each year.

The bones of slaughtered lions are exported to South East Asia where they are used in traditional medicine.

This trade directly stimulates the demand for lion bones and incentivises poachers to target wild lions and sell their bones illegally into these markets. South Africa is the largest legal exporter of lion bones and skeletons, with an annual quota of 800 skeletons approved since 2018.

Many breeding farms offer visitors an animal interaction experience in which they can pet for example a lion cub.  This requires for the cubs to be removed from their mothers within a few days of birth, and the subsequent hand-rearing allows the cubs to become further accustomed to human interaction.  As the lions grow, they are used for other tourist activities such as ‘walking with lions’ and eventually used in canned lion hunting, or for the bone trade.

“We have the power to prevent animal abuse of this nature. We live in a society where people are competing for the best selfie, to capture the best experience and to showcase this to their networks. This is especially true about wild animals,” she says.

“The mistreatment of animals is not widely taught, and without a benchmark of what is right, people continue to either contribute directly or indirectly to the mistreatment of animals. Through educating people, we as an organisation have seen the impact of how change is made. Sometimes it takes just one person to influence thousands, and even ignite a movement.”

Miles says there are simple steps to ensure you don’t contribute to the abuse and killing of big cats:

  • Don’t visit places that allow any interaction with big cats – this is the first sign that you’re at a place that could be contributing to the entire industry decimating these animals.
  • FOUR PAWS is actively campaigning to put an end to the onslaught against big cats, and people can add their support by signing the FOUR PAWS petition and spreading the word on social media.
  • Ask difficult questions to gather as much information wherever you go. With information about conservation readily available online, it’s easy to find legitimate information about how animals are exploited.
  • Report animal cruelty if you’re aware of it. The relevant authorities must follow up and there is legislation protecting animals.

“Animals deserve to live their lives as they were meant to be. Pets should be cared for as companions – they are our close friends. Wild animals belong in the wild and should be able to flourish there; not in squalid conditions, afraid and abused. It’s our responsibility to be kinder to animals, to ensure their freedom and that they are able to live in conditions suitable for their species,” says Miles.

Apart from Four Paws lion sanctuary there are other genuine sanctuaries that either are rehabilitating animals until they can be released or looking after animals that have come from abusive situations and can never return to the wild. In these sanctuaries there is no training of animals to ‘interact’ with humans:

Wildlife Act Offers volunteer opportunities with research project in reserves in Zululand; endorsed by the WWF. Projects include monitoring wild dogs and leopard.

SANCCOB Just about all these rescued seabirds really do go back home. Mandated by the South African government and registered with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre Animals to be rehabilitated are not on public display. Supported by Mpumalanga’s parks.

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre Breeds and releases cheetah and is accredited by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Also a member of WESSA. They also look after rhino and elephant orphans to be released back into the wild.

Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre Has bred and released over 160 serval into the wild.