Lion cub petting is believed to be one of the many pitfalls of South Africa’s notorious canned lion hunting industry – an industry that has come under much scrutiny in the run up to CITES CoP17, set to be held in Johannesburg at the end of September.
In June of this year the controversial Lion Park, which totes itself as the most visited tourist attraction in Gauteng, announced that it would not only be opening its gates in new and improved premises but that it would also be looking to offer a more “authentic safari experience” by doing away with its petting zoo at the new 600 hectare location in the Magaliesberg Mountains.
Operation manager at the time Scott Simpson told Traveller24 that at the new, much larger park, organisers will aim to move away from the “petting zoo experience, to a more authentic safari experience in the Cradle of Humankind”.
However in a turn of events, a series of images have been shared on social media, with the Captured in Africa Foundation taking to Facebook to out the Lion Park’s apparent backtrack decision, describing the images taken on 15 August as “saddening”.
Traveller24 contacted the Lion Park to confirm the reports on social media that the park is once again offering lion cub petting, finding that Simpson has since left the Lion Park, with General Manager Whim Booysen stating he would forward a statement to Traveller24 explaining the park’s decision. Traveller24 has yet to receive the statement.
‘A background of negative publicity’
Last year the park came under fire from animal activist groups, who alleged that the petting of cubs is directly related to canned lion hunting. The park banned the petting of cubs shortly after, with Sampson saying at the time “It is against the background of negative media coverage and the ongoing campaigns against us by certain animal activist groups that the decision has been reached to cease the cub interaction and the breeding of lions at the new park.”
The new park does not detail offering lion cub interactions on its website however and previously confirmed it still planned to offer cheetah interactions and walks, as well as the giraffe feeding for visitors.
On 1 June 2015, the park also made headlines when American tourist Catherine Chappell was mauled to death by a female lion during a self-drive safari. Both Chappell and her local guide had their windows rolled down despite various warnings to keep them closed at all times.
This fatal incident followed an attack on an Australian tourist in March 2015.
Listing Lions as an endangered species
Blood Lions, prolific advocates around the unethical issue of canned lion hunting, have since condemned the apparent move by the Lion Park saying, “We condemn the Lion Park for going back on their commitment to end animal exploitation practices such as cub-petting. In what is clearly a decision based solely on financial considerations, it once again highlights that the vast majority of South African predator facilities exist purely as a business opportunity.
“It also reaffirms our stance that all breeding for non-conservation purposes must be stopped,” the organisation says.