Sourced from third-party site: http://www.traveller24.com/, written by Louzel Lombard Steyn
Management of the Ranch Protea Hotel in Limpopo (owned by Marriott Hotels & Resorts) have been caught with their pants down when they promised that guests can ‘enjoy a thrilling walk with lions’ in a newsletter put together by tour operator Thompson’s Holidays. Read the original story here.
Thompson’s Holidays has since apologised for the newsletter and removed this wildlife interaction punt from their website. According to Craig Drysdale, Thompsons Africa head of global sales, the group “does not support any wildlife interaction that we deem to be unethical in either its purpose or in any way results in cruelty as a side effect. We encourage our customers to consider this when requesting activities in our quotations.”
Turning a Blind Eye?
According to Danny Bryer for the Protea Group, the property and “the conservancy on which The Ranch is situated, has never and will never breed lions for the hunting industry, nor do any of the on-site activities involve human interaction with lions such as walking with lions or the petting of cubs.”
However, The Ranch reception confirmed in December 2017 that, ‘walking with lions’ was recommended as a top activity at the hotel, along with the cheetah interaction.
Guests who visited The Ranch in December last year also confirm that big cat interactions are taking place on the conservancy and at the Protea Hotel.
According to an American tourist visiting the property, the ‘lion walks’ and cheetah petting experiences were sold to them while staying at Protea Hotel The Ranch. The tourists group – including travellers from across the globe – engaged in walking with cheetah, walking with lions as well as cub petting on the conservancy. According to the tourists, some of the cheetah at Protea Hotel were also used as ring-bearers at a wedding on the property.
Despite Bryer’s claim that no activities involving human interaction take place, a neighbouring lodge on The Ranch conservancy, WildThingz Lodge, also confirms that they offer lion walking, picnics with lions as well as cub petting. When inquiring at WildThingz Lodge whether walks with lions were sold to Protea Hotel guests, the property also confirmed that this was common practice since they have “taken over the lion walks” activity from Protea Hotel.
After highlighting the discrepancies in Protea Hotel’s statement on wildlife interactions on the property and greater conservancy in December 2017, Bryer assured that the issue would be dealt with and that “promoting the ‘WildThingz lion walk’ is definitely not in accordance with Protea Hotels by Marriott’s principles”.
He stated also that “all staff [had been informed] to desist from suggesting any lion-related activities in the area, with immediate effect,” and added that the Protea Hotel group supported “sustainable tourism based on ethical principles”.
In January 2018, however, staff at the Protea Hotel The Ranch reception still entice prospective guests by promoting ‘walking with lions’ as one of the top activities. In an email, Protea Hotel further states that bookings for the activity can be done at WildThingz Lodge, which they copy in on the reservation enquiry.
The cost for the ‘walking with lions’ activity booked at the Protea property, according to the hotel reception, is R1000 per person, while booking directly at WildThingz Lodge costs R200 less, the lodge confirms.
Lion cub petting and walking with big cats like cheetah and lion practices have been linked directly to the tainted canned lion hunting industry in South Africa, a fact both Protea Hotels by Marriott Hotels have been warned of over recent years.
In November 2015, Wildlands Conservation Trust CEO Andrew Venter visited The Ranch on an invitation and warned both Protea Hotels and Marriott International’s managers of the obvious “unethical operations ongoing on the property”.
In a follow-up email about his experience and observations, Venter outlined some of the ‘very real risks’ at the facility saying The Ranch’s wildlife interaction programmes had a “clear commercial objective cloaked as an educational experience”.
He pointed out that the property was offering education experiences with animals that were being sold at a later stage. Venter also stated that it was clear that The Ranch was “actively breeding wildlife and was not aware of the growing controversy in this regard”.
Fast forward two years since the Wildlands’ warning and neither Protea nor Marriott have taken effective action against the human wildlife interactions. Instead, guests are still offered such activities, either directly or indirectly via The Ranch Resort.
South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona, agrees, saying “such practices go against SA Tourism’s position opposing any interaction with wild animals, as they have a “negative impact on South Africa’s brand image” globally. Ntshona says more “awareness of the devastating impact of canned lion hunting [and] animal petting will encourage the industry to stop promoting such practices.”