Cape Town – It’s 2017, and the time for sensational animal exploitation no longer has a place in our modern society.
This is not only the sentiment of global conservationist and wildlife ambassadors – but also a good portion of South Africans.
Traveller24 recently asked News24 readers whether animal interaction in the South Africa should be continued, especially considering the many incidents in which people and animals have been hurt in such environments.
The outcome was an overwhelming majority of readers calling for such practices to be banned. Of the total of 14 067 voters, 77% said that wild animals are not meant to be caged and petted.
Their opinion is in line with that of SA Tourism’s new CEO, Sisa Ntshona, who recently spoke out against cub petting and animal interactions on behalf of SA’s global and official brand representative.
“South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on,” Ntshona says.
He also said that conservation authorities’ concerns about cub petting and other wildlife interaction practices are taken extremely seriously and that SA Tourism is in discussion with the “Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme to see how we can work more closely with them to eradicate such practices”.
“Our marketing efforts promote an authentic and credible tourism experience to all our tourists, and this includes an authentic wildlife experience to keep it as “wild” and natural as possible,” Ntshona says.
There are victories. Like our new SA Tourism CEO, the country of Botswana has also taken a bold stance in sending a message of conservation to the world.
Since the start of 2017, elephant-back rides have been banned from Botswana. Abu Camp, the only facility that allowed elephant back riding in the country, has been directed to terminate its elephant back safaris.
Companies across the Zambezi river in Zambia are following Botswana’s lead. Safari Par Excellence, on behalf of Zambezi Elephant Trails in Livingstone, Zimbia announced this week that they’ll be distancing themselves from elephant-back safaris by end of December 2017.
It’s a slow and tiring process, but every step towards freeing Africa’s iconic animals is a step in the right direction.
A bloody, slow process
Despite the local and global call for animal interaction to stop, the practice continues – along with the incidents that endanger both the lives of humans and animals.
Shortly after, in a separate incident in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, two white lions escaped from their enclosure at the Lion Tree Top Lodge and attacked an employee. The man, Qebekhulu Justice has since died “due to complications other than his injuries sustained from the lion attack”, but the attack again highlighted the inevitable dangers that come with putting wild animals behind man-made fences.
Shockingly, an official spokesperson for the lodge, West Mathewson told News24 he did not believe that the lion wanted to hurt Justice. “I think they just wanted to play with the guy,” Mathewson says.
It is this kind of misinformation that adds to the false idea people have about animal interaction – that it can be educational and beneficial to wildlife.
A suprising 14% of News24 voters also say that animal interaction is informative and educational.
The truth is as simple as this: Taking an animal out of its natural environment and out of the natural hierarchy of the wild is not good, and it WILL have disastrous consequences for either or all parties involved.
The fatal and devastating incidents will continue to occur until we realise this and start forming an wildlife interactions exit strategy.
In some cases, where animals are rescued from circuses, zoos or other unnatural surroundings in which they have been from birth or for a extended period, a re-introduction into the wild is not always possible.
It is in this loophole where many companies deal under the veil of conservation. Because the animals are rescued, keepers and tourists feel less guilty about paying to pet them or play with them. But don’t be fooled – if you’re paying to interact with wild animals, you’re dealing with a lucrative business and you’re actually paying to keep the animals caged.
There are places that do the words ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘sanctuary’ justice, of course. Like Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary who took on 33 rescued lions from ailing circuses last year, for example. Emoya was opened by Savannah Heuser in 2012 and it has no breeding policy, nor is it open to the public.
This means that the ‘exit strategy’ for these rescued animals is death, ultimately. And death, unfortunately, isn’t where this ugly process stops.
Wild animal afterlife
While we like to think that all big cats and wild dogs go to heaven, lions, for one, don’t. Especially not captive lions. Their bones and remains are a hot commodity that attracts a lucrative Asian market – that our very own Department of Environmental Affairs, shockingly, want to stimulate.
As we speak, there’s a call to stop the LEGAL exporting of 800 captive bred lion skeletons.
Once again, when you entice animal trade or animal interactions with a financial reward, you’re asking for that process to continue – whether it be to pet baby wild animals, to shoot and kill lions, to poach rhino or elephant or to export ivory or lion skulls.
It’s as simple as that.