Today is World Animal Day, an international day of action for animal rights and welfare. Many years ago I began this blog simply viewing myself as a ‘conservationist‘; but the further I wandered down that path, the more I began to realise that my views aligned not just with population numbers and ecology, but also the plight of the individual; ‘compassionate conservation‘ if you will. And just like that; I become an animal rights activist!
Having had my own experience of visiting and volunteering in South Africa as a teenager in 2008, this was an issue close to my heart (you can read about why here), so it seemed only natural to follow the connection when Cecil the lion threw trophy hunting into the spotlight a few years back; and to campaign once more for South Africa’s lions ahead of the last CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting to take place in Johannesburg, back in 2016 — if you missed my post on ‘taking the lions share’, you can read that here.
Given that the mission of World Animal Day is to raise the status of animals to improve worldwide welfare standards, it seems like the perfect chance to introduce my readers to the brilliant and inspiring Beth Jennings; a fellow lion campaigner, owner of the excellent blog ‘Claws Out‘, and Campaign Manager for the charity IAPWA (International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals). Here, Beth shares her own experience of when volunteering can go wrong, and how it changed her life…
Beth Jennings: Living ‘the dream’…
Under the heat of the African sun I prepared for a hard day of work – bottle feeding, cuddling, bathing and playing with lion cubs. I thought I was living the dream, but this was only the beginning of my worst nightmare. I knew not to swim dolphins, not to ride an elephant and not to visit a tiger sanctuary in Thailand, but I was never warned about another industry, currently booming, and fuelled by lies.
In South Africa, thousands of volunteers and tourists like myself are sold the same experience under the guise of conservation; the chance to help hand-rear orphaned lion cubs in preparation for release into the wild. I volunteered in 2015 and within days I realised that the trip had been mis-sold and I had been lied to by the travel agency and the park itself.
There are an estimated 297 lion breeding parks in South Africa, around a third of which offer cub interactions to the public. The number of lions in captivity is thought to be between 6,000 – 8,000 although estimations also reach as high as 10,000. In comparison there are only 20,000 wild lions left in the world, a huge drop from 200,000 in the 1940s. So where are the captive bred lions really going?
Canned hunting and the lion bone trade
Within South Africa, canned hunting is entirely legal and somewhat encouraged. A canned hunt is a trophy hunt within a fenced enclosure, ensuring success for the hunter. As well as physical constraints, the lions are often hand-reared and habituated to humans therefore see no reason to flee. Normal trophy hunts can take up to 21 days with no guaranteed kill, whereas with a canned hunt, you can choose a lion from a menu and be in and out in the same day. An act so deplorable, even trophy hunters are speaking out against it.
Another industry currently booming within South Africa is the trade in lion bone. The South African government has issued an annual quota of 1,500 lion skeletons to be legally exported to Asia, for use in traditional medicines. The government claim that in doing so, they are protecting wild populations however are yet to provide any scientific evidence to prove this.
It is also impossible to tell a captive-bred lion skeleton apart from a wild, poached one, so there is no way to guarantee which bones are being exported. Across Asia, the bones are being made into wine or “cakes” that supposedly have healing properties and are sometimes sold to consumers as tiger bone.
The reality of handling lion cubs or walking with lions in South Africa is that they will never be released into glorious, wild reserves. They will be hunted – their heads hung as a trophy and their bones crushed into cake.
All too often I receive messages from volunteers assuring me that the park they visited has “no involvement” with hunting however, this is false. There is absolutely no benefit to hand rearing lion cubs and volunteers should not be paying thousands to do so. Absolutely no park that offers hands on interactions is ethical – no exceptions.
Once I discovered that the cubs I had bonded with would meet such a dreadful fate I launched a blog, Claws Out, to share my experience. As a volunteer with first hand experience of the lies and deceit, my story was picked up by other NGOs (Non-governmental organisations) and politicians resulting in articles, interviews and even a speech in European Parliament.
I am now registered under International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals – an incredible charity that has made Claws Out a full time job for me. We are working alongside Born Free Foundation and Olsen Animal Trust to launch a public awareness campaign to warn potential volunteers and tourists about the dangers of interacting with cubs, no matter how cute the selfie might be.
Follow Beth’s work with Claws Out, including her impending involvement with the upcoming Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference — and advice for ethical wildlife volunteering — on her website; www.claws-out.com
Learn more about lions
Want to know more about the lion hunting industry?
- Read about the plight of lions at CITES 2016
- What happened when the story of Cecil broke?
- Lion Aid raises funds in Cecil’s honour
- Discover Blood Lions documentary
- Global March for Lions
Want to hear more from the people working to save lions?