By Vanessa Papas people Has Heart: It was a story that blanketed the sunny African plains in darkness. The Sand River lion pride consisting of two lionesses and their five sub-adult male cubs were shot and killed after breaking out of a reserve. Their deaths sparked outrage and fury among guides, animal activists and tourists alike, and catapulted a Foundation into action with the goal to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.
“Not very often do the Sand River Pride leave my mind, they were one of the reasons I started campaigning and fighting for wild lions all those years ago,” says Drew Abrahamson of Captured In Africa Foundation (CIAF), which works hard to dispel the myth that wild lions benefit from the captive lion industry, thus making the captive industry a conservation tool which can release can release captive lions to restock reserves. The captive industry in South Africa has one gain which is to make as much money as possible. “There are so many pictures that float around social media of lions that have been hunted, like the Sand River Pride, who were resident in the Western Sector Sabi Sands. I watched the cubs grow up before my eyes turning into the most gorgeous males you have ever seen, with distinct facial features. At the age of around two their lives were cut short by the bullets of hunters, chased by tracker dogs until they could not go any further. One of the sub-adults was shot in the back of the head while trying to get back under the fence to the safety of the reserve! What so many people don’t understand is that lions are Africa’s apex predator, they are one of the main controllers of the eco system and if they are not around there will be unbalance of epic proportions.”
Drew says the lion numbers in Africa are said to be between 15 000 to 20 000 and of that, roughly only 2500 are males. “Considering that the males are predominantly what the trophy hunters are after, you can clearly see that this is not sustainable. We need to start making a concerted effort to protect our wild lions. They are under immense pressure from human encroachment, poisoning due to retaliatory killing of livestock , and so on. If we want to carry on seeing healthy Lion numbers throughout Africa, the most important thing is to protect our wild spaces, if these are gone…so are out lions and life as we know it!”.
In countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Egypt and the Middle-East, there is huge exploitation of what some refer to as “Africa’s natural resources” and where these “resources” are under threat or have been exploited, Captured In Africa Foundation hope to protect and in many cases rescue and/or relocate to safeguard their future.
“South Africa in particular is a hub for lion breeding and exploitation – times arise when lions and other big cats require intervention,” says Drew. “This intervention can either be a rescue of an exploited big cat from breeders or private owners, or a relocation of a big cat from one wild area to another. Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs have all fallen victim to this conflict, whether near villages or farms, local people and farmers must understandably protect their interests. However, we believe working in harmony with wildlife is critical in today’s’ environment when we can ill-afford to lose any more iconic species – with this philosophy, we are able to mitigate and/or arrange interventions in such circumstances where there may be a ‘problem animal’ such as a big cat attacking livestock, or a cat having escaped a reserve boundary fence. Having a broader view to these ‘problem animals’ means we can deal with situations effectively, keeping the animal alive and showing that these species are not necessarily a ‘problem’.
Drew adds that managed wildlife reserves are also under huge strain to ethically and responsibly control wildlife numbers. Culling lions in particular is sadly still anecessity and reality. In order for these reserves to correctly maintain such numbers, an outlet needs to be found to avoid the unnecessary killing of what are generally healthy animals. The Captured In Africa Foundation works hand-in-hand with these reserves and wildlife management, along with government authorities and seeks to facilitate relocations to other reserves where the animals can continue living in a wild environment – thus avoiding a reserves’ need to cull.
The Foundation also tackles the issue of cubs breed for canned hunting. In South Africa there are currently about 8,000 lions in captivity, bred on mass for the cub petting industry, walking with lion experiences and canned hunting. “Canned Hunting is a commercial industry to which the Captured In Africa Foundation team advocate for a ban. It is this industry which has seen an increase in a need for genuine sanctuary homes for lions. Lion cubs hold a particular fascination for tourists and volunteers, who pay good money to pet, play, walk and care for them under the assumption that it is part of conservation efforts for lions or other big cats. In fact, what tourists and volunteers are really doing is taming these lions ready for a trophy collector in what is known as a captive lion hunt, aka canned hunting. Captured In Africa Foundation advise against all petting and walking with lion, tiger or cheetah experiences available to tourists and volunteers.”
Another concern the Foundation tackles is the private ownership of big cats, which has for decades and continues to be a worldwide issue. “Owning an exotic animal has for far too long been seen as a status symbol, or personal possession to enjoy and often keep as a ‘pet’. In the USA for example, there are great efforts to bring new laws banning the ownership of exotic animals such as big cats. Middle Eastern counties such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have long been keen importers and breeders of cheetahs, lions and tigers, although thankfully the UAE has now put a ban in place restricting private ownership and we sincerely hope the rest of the world stand up, take notice and follow suite. With a lack of animal welfare laws in such countries, there is a hastened need for better education and protection for big cats in these countries.
Captured In Africa Foundation have also seen a worrying trend of private lodges and nature reserves buying (or loaning from lion breeders) one or two lions, that they will then use and exploit for tourist activities as cub petting and walking with lions experiences… all of which goes to feed the ‘farming’ industry of these species.”
Pay It Forward
If you’d like to help save the African lion, readers are urgent to not partake in irrresponsible tourism and only visit areas who look after their wildlife and work with communities, and refuse to support facilities offering interactions with captive lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants (cub petting, lion walks, elephant rides etc). Captured In Africa Foundation are developing an amazing educational programme, enabling teachers, education officers and parents to invite Captured In Africa Foundation along for their team to speak to children and adults. For more information e-mail [email protected]