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5 lies you need to stop believing about the lion cub petting industry

Written by: Carla Lewis-Balden for Traveller24

The harsh truth is that when you’re cuddling a lion cub or bottle feeding one, you’re directly funding the canned lion hunting industry.


The cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet its end at the end of a hunter with a hunting rifle or bow and arrow.

Lie #1: Volunteering at these ‘animal sanctuaries’ promotes conservation

Google ‘gap year’ and ‘big cats volunteer’ and you will get millions of results about establishments offering well-intending but ill-informed gap year students the chance to interact with lion cubs, while “contributing towards conservation and research.” Not all of these organisations are what they claim to be.

Beverly Pervan, director of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting explains that some lion farmers rent out their cubs to tourist resorts and “voluntourism projects”.

“There is an insatiable demand for cub petting by tourists.  All the tourists who indulge in cub petting are supporting the canned hunting industry,” says Pervan.

“When the cubs are too big to be handled by humans any longer, they are sent back to the lion farmer to be hunted. Basically lion farmers use the profits they make from cub petting to externalise the cost of rearing the cub to a huntable size. Once you understand that there is virtually no market for adult lions other than hunting, and that more than a thousand lions are canned hunted every year, you begin to understand the scale of the tragedy.”

Lie #2: The cubs are orphans whose parents were killed by poachers or were rejected by their mother 

Most of these establishments spin sob stories to gullible tourists about the animals’ mothers abandoning them at birth, or their parents being killed by poachers.

“There are genuine sad stories but they are very rare,” says Fiona Miles, South Africa’s manager of the FOUR PAWS Animal Welfare Foundation. They run LIONSROCK, a sanctuary in Bethlehem for big cats that were kept in inadequate conditions in zoos, circuses or private captivity.

“The majority of cubs encountered at facilities where interaction is provided, are the product of intensive captive breeding or farming,” says Miles.

“These cubs are removed from their mother as young as possible and hand raised. The reason this is done is twofold: Firstly the cubs raise funds through interaction, and the second reason is that the mother will go into season again and will reproduce more rapidly than if she was allowed to raise her own young,” Miles explains.

Lie #3: When they are adults, the cubs will be re-introduced into the wild

As social animals lion cubs learn from their parents how to hunt and interact with other lions. A hand raised animal will not have gained this experience. There is a certain instinctual knowledge on hunting but not successful hunting.

According to Miles, it is highly improbable that a lion raised in captivity by man will be able to survive for any extensive period once it’s placed back into a wild environment.

The best goal for lions currently in captivity would be a situation like LIONSROCK where they are provided with ample space and minimal human contact.

Lie #4: Lion breeders are contributing towards the dwindling numbers of lions in the wild

“Firstly it is unlawful for any registered sanctuary to breed with animals other than in carefully controlled specific programs for endangered species,” say Pervan. “Otherwise breeding is prohibited for sanctuaries.”

In 2010 the Lion Breeders Association won a court case in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) against the (then) Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Van Schalkwyk successfully imposed a verdict that semi-tame animals may only be hunted 24 months after being set free from their breeding cages, but the Lion Breeder’s Organisation took the case to the SCA, where they won.

The SCA proved that lion farming was “a closed circuit”, since no captive-bred lions have ever been released back to the wild, thereby showing that lion farming has nothing to do with conservation.

“Accordingly, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had no jurisdiction to impose any restrictions on them. Lion breeders are farmers, not conservationists,” Campaign Against Canned Lion Hunting explains.

“Therefore, no captive-bred lions have ever been released back to the wild, nor would conservation authorities ever allow it because of genetic and veterinary reasons,” Pervan says.

Lie #5: Playing and posing with these animals teaches children the value of conservation and makes them appreciate the animals more

“Interaction with wild animals serves no positive influence on the animals. Animals that are utilised for human interaction will invariably become habituated and lose any fear of humans,” says Miles.

With habituation, the risk of the animal causing injury to another person is increased, as is the risk of disease transfer. Ethically any interaction between a human and an animal merely opens the door to risk to the animal and ultimately lowers the welfare of the animal.

“A hands-off approach would be just as beneficial towards any conservation program, while also maintaining the welfare of the animals. A direct interaction operation will claim that it aids conservation and ignore the fact that it does this at the cost of the welfare of every animal that passes through its doors,” Miles explains.

To find out more about the lion breeding industry, read Lion King or Commodity

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  • Sean

    now that it is not conservation, why a conservation group (if it is) attacks this industry?

    • Daleen

      They pose as so called pro-conservation institutions. They Con people! If they are not ashamed then say “come pet this lion cub, we stole it from its mother in order to shoot it for profit later” ….. and see how many people will still support them! Duh

      • Sean

        it has nothing to do with conservation, just like the elephant orphanage in Kenya. Why people don’t blame orphanage?

        • Freedom

          Elephants are not carnivorous predators,they also live in large groups
          lions don’t duh,duh Sean

          • Sean

            also, pet raising is not a conservation thing, while those who claim to have the ability to save wildlife are actually applying their irrelevant pet raising skill inside cities.

          • Freedom

            Point made SeanBravo

  • Vicky S

    Think you are missing the important word ‘not’?! : “a lion raised in captivity by man will be able to survive for any extensive period once it’s placed back into a wild environment”

    • Neilinely

      You’ve missed the preceding words: it says “it is highly improbable that a lion raised in captivity by man will be able to survive for any extensive period once it’s placed back into a wild environment.”

      • Vicky S

        indeed i did. stand corrected, thanks!

  • Ben Bristow

    And what makes this person an expert on captive lions, breeding and interaction, Bloodlions????
    And what’s more, the opening title is and I quote ” the harsh truth is that if your cuddling or bottle feeding a lion cub, you’re directly funding the canned lion hunting industry” prove that every single park that offers these activities supports canned lion hunting!!! And as Sean has rightly said, this article is not about conservation, it is about someone’s biased opinion.

    • Belinda Fellgate

      Prove that they don’t. You’ll have your work cut out.

    • Chris Voets

      Wake up and smell the lion carcasses, Ben….. There is plenty of research that has been done over the past 25 years or so, since canned hunting was exposed. But I guess if you’ve had the blinkers on for so long, you might have misses that.

    • Freedom

      Ben indirectly they are,please re-read the article,as a tame cub grows up into a tame lion which in turn does not fear humans which makes them easy prey for people like Walter James Palmer.Though they have tasted,I say tasted the bush but not lived in it to know how to avoid humans.Damn you are thick.

      • ctulpa

        Freedom, you are again incorrect. The lion that Walter Palmer shot was not a lion from a Captive bred lion facility. It was a wild lion that lived in a National Park and roamed to areas outside the park patrolling his domain and hunting for his food. So you are the thick one to think that all wild lions are tame. And just because a lion is in a National Park does not make him ‘tame’.

        • Freedom

          Pardon me but did I call you thick? but oh yes I will call you that now!!!
          whatever the case may be,the animal kingdom only kills when in need.WALTER JAMES PALMER killed in the name of sport WHY?do you call that a sport,I certainly don’t,I defy anyone on this forum to prove me wrong including you plankhead.The wildlife kingdom has it’s own laws & rules unlike the human race who kills for greed.Have I got through to you,do you understand?Please get a life,if you have no compassion for animals,I have no hope for you.

          • Freedom

            This lion (Cecil) was lured into unknown territory by WALTER JAMES PALMERS’$$$$Do you now understand,these diseased Americans get their kicks from killing animals,well l beg them to kill their own indiginous animals NOT OUR WILDLIFE.We will fight you yanks in anyway we can Stay the flip out of Africa.Where you filthy yanks go all you leave is sorrow.WALTER JAMES PALMER IS A MURDERER

          • ctulpa

            Freedom, you continue with your stupidity and do not even know what constitutes murder. You are libelous in your comments to Walter Palmer. Murder by definition under criminal code can only be against another human. So get an education, and keep your libel comments and thoughts out of the public or you subject yourself to possible criminal prosecution for public defamation.

          • Freedom

            What prosecution for public defamation,libelous,well then there should be many courtrooms full of those in my position.

          • ctulpa

            Freedom, you are obviously the plankhead. What part of wild lion do you not understand? You were the one that claimed that Walter Palmer shot a tame captive bred lion. I cannot argue with stupid. But in case there is a chance to get through your thick skull, that Cecil the lion was a WILD LION, and not a captive bred lion as you portray. Why does no one else have a problem understanding that except you?

          • Freedom

            You are senile,nowhere have I claimed that Walter James Palmer shot a tame lion,I said he was lured out of the reserve.Go get some sleep,you have been surfing the net too long.

    • Freedom

      Go to News 24 videos you may change your mind

  • Karat Gold

    thank you thank you thank you

  • I guess someone has to point out to Sean and Ben Bristow that the role of a journalist is to report on subjects that interest them. They are not necessarily the expert or the “conservationist” but they report about what is going on. The content of this report is accurate and can be verified in many places as is quoted in the content of the post two “experts” are indeed consulted. So, I would be more circumspect in my criticism of the writer if I were them!

  • Mark

    Just the fact that we humans have this ridiculous need to touch and hold wild animals is already bizarre. Leave them in the wild and teach children about their fascinating wild existence instead of trying to turn them into domestic animals!
    Ben and Sean – go and see Ian Michler’s movie ‘Blood Lions” when it is on the circuit in the next week or so. There you will see the truth of this sick industry exposed

  • Freedom

    thank you for this article,always said lions belong in the wild they have their own way of survival.These breeders as you mentioned breed them for one reason only and that is for canned and trophy hunting.As much as we want to ban trophy hunting and poaching I feel the time has come to stop all together lion ,cheetah,leopard petting.Any instodution allowing this must be given a very heavy fine and if need be their licence revoked.

    • ctulpa

      Freedon, you are incorrect that the lion breeders breed the lions for one reason only, for canned hunting. Some of the breeders make a tremendous amount of money renting the cubs to be petted and to have photos taken. For some they make more from the eco-tourist safari lodges and restaurants renting out the cubs, than the do from a hunt.

      • Freedom

        Some breeders make a tremendous amount of money?well you sure are right there,as once they are used to humans they are easy game for trophy hunters
        the rest of your comment leaves much to b desired.

      • Freedom

        Please take a look on news24 the producer of Bloodlions has some amazing film and history on petting to walking with lions to eventual trophy hunting,this practice makes no money for eco -touristism,enviromental or otherwise.It makes the breeder rich.

        • ctulpa

          Many Eco-tourist lodges depend on the draw of walking with lions, lion cubs available to pet and get photos. The fill their rooms with tourists that want to be that close to lions. The captive bred lion breeders fulfill that Eco-tourist need to be close to lions.
          The movie Blood Lions is mostly ARA propaganda and is not based on fact. They have searched out some poor breeders and try to make it look like all lion breeders are like that. Just for sensationalism and to get emotion and sympathy from animal rights activists.
          You should go and spend some time at some of the well managed captive bred lion facilities and you will not see the things that are displayed in the movie, Blood Lions. Blood Lions is full of lies and deception, and is just a fictional hollywood style movie to get people emotional. Anyone that believes Blood Lions is fact is a fool.

  • Robyn Hoffenberg

    This is so true. Do NOT go to one of these lion sanctuaries as they are not what they advertise. The raise them for can hunting no if, ands or buts. DON’T Go.

  • Pam Du Plessis

    And the poor lioness who never gets to raise her cubs – instead she has them ripped away from her time after time – and as you say as early as possible otherwise she also dies of a broken heart. Humans are sick and driven by greed.

    • ctulpa

      Yes Pam, the lioness is so emotional, sympathetic and nurturing as she rips the guts out of the impala, eating it while the impala is still alive. The impala is screaming in pain and knows it is dying while watching the lioness eat its legs. And if the lioness finds an impala that is pregnant, as is often the case as the pregnant ones are easier to catch, she also gets to eat the fetus of the impala, that is her bonus and she loves that!
      The poor impala, or gemsbok, or any of the other beautiful animals that the lioness rips apart and eats, die of a broken heart when the lions continuously kill their babies. I am sure the lioness is saddened that she has killed so many babies and pregnant impala. I’m sure she must cry every time she does all those horific deeds.

      • Freedom

        That is the law of nature survival of the fittest,lions are wild they need to feed their young ,it doesn’t happen often that an Impala etc will be eaten alive wild lion, leopard & cheetah mostly throttle their prey death is swift.Breeding lion for
        trophy hunting ,petting etc makes them vulnerable that is not hunting that is the cowards way of owning a trophy.

  • Marianne

    The lion farming/breeding industry is about seriously Big Money. And wherever there is Big Money, politicians are never far away. We have no laws in South Africa that require ethical treatment of wild animals … one + one = two. Guess who’s scoring Big Time!!! If lion breeding was illegal, there would be no room for the breeders to operate. Shame on our Environment Minister.

    • ctulpa

      Yes Marianne, it is about making Big Money! And why do they make so much money? Because eco-tourists want to get close to those animals. They pay a lot to pet lion cubs, walk with lions, ride African elephants, etc. It is a big business. How do you get all the animal lovers to stop paying to be with animals? There is a market for it. The same people that complain about canned lion hunting on the internet on their computer, are the ones that then go to the eco-tourist safari camps and play with the baby lion cubs and get in their reservation to get to walk with a lion.

  • CAG

    Predator petting of any sort, should not be allowed. Neither should training of elephant for riding, or touch interaction with humans. The problem is you also have tourists who wish to experience close contact with wild animals, and as with hunters, they seem to be happy to through money in that direction to get that photo or experience with a predator. I , have heard people relate their petting experiences, and no amount of telling them the real reason for the constant availability of cubs, makes the least impact on them!! As long at they have ticked the item off their bucket list, they will continue to take part in these harmful activities. The whole system is wrong, but how can it be positively corrected, with the least ill effects on the animals concerned. One just has to see pictures of how the Nepalese treat their own bears for dancing, to realise that it is a global problem of animals providing income doing stupid things, like tricks, playing with kids and adults etc. Perhaps captive lion farms should be abolished all together, but the problem would still remain as people involved in the game industry are also breeding an inordinate amount of animals, [e.g.sable antelope] for the hunting industry too.Surely that is also a form of canned hunting? As usual man has created a total imbalance, which is going to be very hard to correct, especially with so many around earning huge amounts of money from these sad and nefarious activities.

  • So what is being done to stop this? I agree it is wrong and just a money-making scheme, as well as the tourist attraction known as ‘walking with lions’ which is where some of these cubs land up before being hunted, but what is being done, other than writing about it? Is anyone lobbying to make it illegal? Is any pressure being put on anyone at all to have this stopped?

  • Michele Jankelow

    Man at his most disgusting level of greed and opportunism! How despicable are people! South Africa and parts of the US where they do this should hang their heads in shame and utter disgust.

    • ctulpa

      Almost every city has a zoo where they do the same things. So you should clean your own house before condemning South Africa and other places for human interaction with wild animals. Go visit the several Cheetah programs in the USA who do the same thing to get visitors and donations. It is always about the money.

      • Freedom

        Pretorias Zoo was one of the best in the world,unfortunatly that is a thing of the past the past 20 years,no respect no love for what was given to us.you are correct in saying it is all about momey or $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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  • ctulpa

    The opening statement of this article “The cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet its end at the end of a hunter with a hunting rifle or bow and arrow.” tells us that is just a propaganda piece and not factual.
    Many of those cubs will never be used for any type of hunting. Those cubs that are female are usually kept for breeding and creating more lions for their business and not hunted.

    The type of hunters that are willing to take a lion from within an enclosure are looking for the very old trophy male lion with the huge mane. Hence the name “trophy”.

    They are not looking for a “canned hunt”. A canned hunt pf a lion put out in a small enclosure is not what a hunter is looking to do for a lion. Canned lion hunts are not allowed. Something totally different is a captive bred lion hunt, which is not the same as a “canned hunt”, and is one where the lions are bred at a game ranch. The lions are usually in large enclosures and with minimum human contact so they can remain as wild as possible. When they get old (usually over 6 years) and have a full mane to be a worthy trophy, they may be transferred to a large reserve, usually with thousands of acres, where they may be hunted in the future. The lions must be released months in advance of any hunting to be conducted. After the transfer, the time is allowed so the lion becomes familiar with his territory and lives as he would in wild. Some of these reserves are larger than any home range of a wild lion. In essence, these lions present a similar hunt as if they were wild lions. They are not shot from a small enclosure.

    The lion breeders do provide lion cubs to the various Eco-tourist lodges. Many Eco-tourist lodges do market that you can get close to the lions, through lion walks, lion cubs to hold and get photos, etc. The Eco-tourists seek out these lodges based on this type of activity. Eco-tourist lodges without lions or lion cubs find themselves at a disadvantage and lose a lot of business because the Eco-tourists want that lion experience when they go to Africa.

    You can disagree with hunting, hate hunting, hate Eco-tourist lodges that provide lion experiences, and hate anything to do with animal use. The fact remains, those animals are there because of that use. Without being able to use some of those lions for released lion hunting, or for Eco-tourist lodges to use for lion experiences for their guests, there would not be those lions at those ranches.
    If you stop the use of those lions, what do you think your actions will do to the 9000 lions at the game ranches? Do you think a game rancher is going to bear the huge expense of feeding lions that have no use? Do you think he will release lions onto his reserves where he has his other animals, such as impala, kudu, buffalo and more, if he does not have the ability to sell that lion? If you take away the ability of the game rancher to sell his lions, he will just kill them all as a loss. Taking away the incentive of a game rancher to keep lions will eliminate most of the lions in South Africa. Be careful what you wish for, because your actions may be the cause of the loss of 9000 lions in South Africa that will be killed without any use of them.
    So know right now, if you are part of the action to stop the use of lions, it is your responsibility for the death of all those lions. Including the females and cubs that will be put to death, not just some old male lions that were released onto a reserve for a hunt.

    cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet its end at the end of a
    hunter with a hunting rifle or bow and arrow. – See more at:
    cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet its end at the end of a
    hunter with a hunting rifle or bow and arrow. – See more at:
    cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet its end at the end of a
    hunter with a hunting rifle or bow and arrow. – See more at:
    cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet its end at the end of a
    hunter with a hunting rifle or bow and arrow. – See more at:

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