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A threat to conservation, a threat to wild populations
Cute, cuddly baby lion cubs, allegedly abandoned by their mothers make for a great attraction for both tourists and local South Africans. Can anything that sweet really undermine conservation efforts? According to Ainsley Hay, manager of the Wildlife Protection Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), the answer is a resounding yes.
“Captive-bred predators have absolutely no benefit to the conservation or protection of wild animals,” says Hay, “Unfortunately, supporting human interaction with predator babies encourages people to own them as pets because they are seen as cute, cuddly and safe. In reality, these are wild animals that can be both dangerous and destructive.”
Although lion breeders and captive lion facilities may say that lionesses do not look after the cubs well, the cubs are often forcibly removed for financial gain for some extra ‘cuddles’. In actual fact, lions are very good parents and are fiercely protective. It’s unlikely that a facility will always have several baby cubs on hand for ‘petting’ due to parental abandonment and is probably a result of the growing captive bred lion industry. Unnecessary removal of cubs is very traumatic to both the lionesses and cubs.
“Facilities that breed wild animals for the purpose of removing their offspring to enable human interactions for profit are only fulfilling a recreation role; there is no educational or conservation message. People only learn that this is a cute wild animal that can be controlled for human entertainment.”
In addition, the practice can be harmful to the cubs themselves as they can only be fully vaccinated at the age of 12 weeks. Any human interaction prior to that exposes the cubs to the extremely high risk of catching diseases from domestic animals such as dogs and cats. These cubs are working animals and they are disturbed throughout the day, and are very rarely are allowed complete rest periods.
Uncontrolled and unscientific breeding and inbreeding has lead to various genetic malformations in captive lions; should these lions be released into the wild they would compromise the genetic integrity of the wild populations, and there is a huge risk of disease introduction to the wild populations.
Lions are bred intensively to ensure a readily available supply of lion cubs. However, as soon as they outgrow their cuddly phase, the animal either returns to a life of captivity where they are used as breeding machines, or they are hunted.
“This is not conservation, it’s farming,” states Hay.
“Although often with the best of intentions, by supporting these facilities, people are inadvertently supporting the practice of animal exploitation for profit and entertainment,” says Marcelle Meredith, executive director of the NSPCA.
“We urge the concerned public to support facilities that truly encourage wildlife to remain in the wild, rather than to cage and tame the animals.”
Before visiting a facility that keeps, displays or breeds wild or exotic animals, demand proof about how the facility is actively saving animals in the wild and scientifically contributing to conservation. Or support a local animal sanctuary, which provides humane alternatives when an animal cannot be legitimately released into the wild. Here, an animal is kept free – and with as little human contact – as possible.
“Very few captive-bred lions will ever be returned to the wild. The end destination for these lions is either as a hunter’s trophy or as a neatly processed skeleton, packaged in a box and flown to Asia to supply the traditional medicinal bone trade, an export that has more than doubled in the last several years,” concludes Hay.