Is walking with lions good conservation? Probably not.


Close encounters with Africa’s megafauna is an irresistible magnet for many tourists in Africa, and for some the closer the encounter the greater the thrill.

So when a tourism operator offers the chance, for a fee, to ‘walk with lions’ it is no surprise that there is a steady flow of punters eager to do it. And when it is claimed that the money goes towards an elaborate project purporting to rewild lions, it seems, superficially at least, to be a Good Thing.

After all Africa’s wild lion population is in bad shape. A half -century ago some 100,000 lions ranged across Africa’s savannas, but lion habitat is only a quarter of what is was then and today lion numbers are fewer than 30,000. Forty per cent of these live in Tanzania and only nine countries can claim to have more than 1,000 wild living lions. To say that lions in the wild are on a one-way ticket to extinction is arguably no overstatement. So where could there be a problem with any attempt to reverse the trend?

Well, controversy and conservation are well acquainted and pretty well constant companions. And around the operations of Antelope Park in Gweru, Zimbabe and their sister operations called Lion Encounter at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia where ‘hands on’ interaction with these great felines is promoted, the controversy is well and truly raging.

Antelope Park, as stated on its website, is “home to the world-famous ALERT lion rehabilitation programme, as seen in the major UK TV documentary series Lion Country.” ALERT, it would seem, is the umbrella organisation in a network of subgroups: ALERT is a non-profit body but the subgroups are not.

The nub of the issue is the ALERT ‘vision’, which is founded on a four-stage rewilding strategy, with stage four being the successful release of lions into true conservation areas. One understands that grand ideas are not always realised overnight, but ALERT was founded in 2005 and has yet to release any lions into the wild. But lions, true to the basic strategy of all life, reproduce. Cubs taken from their pride groups to walk with tourists soon outgrow their purpose and are moved up a stage and ‘new’ walking specimens are brought in. The lions in the middle stages of the rehabilitation model will mature and will breed. And as the breeding cycle continues the numbers of contained lions grows. Unless lions are legally released into a wild area, the ‘captive’ population has to balloon. It’s simple arithmetic.  In fact figures provided to Africa Geographic by ALERT show a large build up of baby lions (where the money is made), a significant death rate in the middle stages and no successful final stage releases to date.  After 8 years those numbers speak for themselves.  And yet ALERT persists with its conservation claims and volunteers and tourists flock to their operations.  Let me be clear on this, I am all for successful tourism operations – but not when they redirect money from genuine conservation activities and not when the promises of conservation impact are nothing more than a thin marketing veneer.


The ‘excess’ lions from these breeding operations will have to go somewhere to relieve the bottleneck and if that destination is not a legitimate conservation area, where will that somewhere be?

The fear and, in some quarters, strongly held suspicion is that via some form of wildlife laundering system lions will find their way into one or more of the many lion breeding farms that serve canned lion hunting operations.

This would certainly not be conservation in any shape or form. In fact it would mean quite cynically that conservation money from volunteer internships, fees to walk with lions and donations is being diverted from really good conservation projects into operations of questionable ethical standing.

If this is not the case then only complete transparency and accountability for all the lions involved from cradle to grave will allay the growing disquiet of the conservation world. And even if such transparency is forthcoming, is it in the first place sensible to offer ultra-close encounters with big, dangerous animals. Attacks on humans and maulings have already occurred at Lion Encounter and quite possibly a real tragedy awaits. But that is another story.

I asked Dereck Joubert, conservationist, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and wildlife documentary filmmaker extraordinaire for his views, so I sign off with his wise words:

There has been a proliferation of these walking-with-lions operations, not just in Africa by the way. I also saw them in Mauritius. In my opinion the activity is fundamentally flawed. A lion is a potentially dangerous animal and walking with it not only exposes guests to an accident that will result in the lion needing to be killed, but also erodes the wildness, the mystique and the very essence of what a wild lion is by taming it.

It is the respect for that vitality and wildness that drives our conservation of wild lions. If you consider that there are probably 6,000 lions in captivity but that we never include those lions into the overall figure of between 20,000 and 30,000 in the wild, its because the conservation of lions is not based on the total number of lions there are in the world, but those in the wild. As such, captive lions have little to do with conservation.

The fact that the captive lions simply confuse the conversation about lion conservation is one thing, but I worry about what happens when the lions get old, injured, sick or a little less cute to walk with. Do they feed a canned lion hunting scheme? Probably.

And canned lion hunting is one of the greatest misguided uses of an icon of Africa. It damages the reputation of South Africa, it is spurred by greed alone and it has stimulated a market that could be responsible for the collapse of not just wild lions but tigers as well, via its evil cousin the bone trade.

walking_with_lions4 walking_with_lions2 walking_with_lions1

All photos were taken by an Africa Geographic representative on assignment.

Cape Town-born Peter Borchert has a career in publishing spanning four decades. He has travelled widely in Africa and has written extensively about the continent.

  • Ex-vol

    Add to the risk that they walk lions long after the official 18 month cut off age when they lack new cubs. Some of the lions have been “almost 18 months” for months on end.
    On another note, the working conditions and how they treat the local staff is sickening. NGO does not mean they’re nice and treat people with respect – or even fair. The content of their employment contracts (that run for one year at the time..) alone made my hair stand up straight, and how they are treated is even worse.

  • Chris Mercer

    Excellent blog Peter. Antelope Park certainly has a history of dealing with lion farmers in SA and articles in Panthera rubbish the company’s extravagant claims to be conservationists.

  • Leigh Evans

    When in Zimbabwe in 1999 I stayed at Antelope Park and did the walk with lions. We were told at the time that these lions would ultimately end up in Zoo’s. After the extraordinary experience of being so close to these animals my experience was soured when as we were leaving the park we saw one of the “keepers” antagonise the lions by running a stick along the cyclone fencing to get a reaction from the lions. Let’s hope that Lion’s interests are placed at the top of the priority list if not now then as soon as possible. I want my kids to be able to see these magnificent animals in the wild.

    • animalcompassionate

      The lion manager was mauled a few years ago while walking a lion for a documentary series being filmed at the park. The staff took 2 lions out on a walk before they had time to settle in. If the film crew was not there it probably would not have happened.
      After the incident happened Mr Connolly came into the volunteer lounge to tell everyone what happened. He minimized the seriousness of the situation and all he cared about was that we didn’t talk about it outside of the park.
      There have been several former employees that have shared how terrible they are treated by Mr. Connolly. The average African working at the park makes $100-$125 a month and the international employees not much more.
      It is impossible to charge over $1,000 a week for each volunteer, and the low wages of the staff and not be making money hand over fist. The accommodations are very basic and the food is as well. Where the heck is all their money going???


    A new report by the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust in collaboration with Dr. Jackie Abell of Lancaster University discusses whether existing conservation efforts alone are capable of saving the African lion from extinction. The authors suggest that lions of captive origin can provide an additional source for reintroduction recognising that this should be undertaken alongside existing conservation efforts. They
    recognize that reintroducing lions of captive origin has complications.

    Estimates of lion populations published at the end of 2012 by a team at the Nicholas School of the Environment suggested that between 32,000 and 35,000 lions remain in Africa and that there is “abundant evidence of widespread decline and local extinctions” even in protected areas. The UK-based charity Lion Aid estimate numbers may be as low 15,000.

    Ex situ management for threatened species is common in conservation, yet the use of lions from a captive origin is not currently recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) despite the IUCN’s own reintroduction guidelines that state: “The reality of the current situation is that it will not be possible to ensure the survival of an increasing number of threatened taxa without effectively using a diverse range of complementary conservation approaches and techniques including, for some
    taxa, increasing the role and practical use of ex situ techniques. If the decision to bring a taxon under ex situ management is left until extinction is imminent, it is frequently too late to effectively implement, thus risking permanent loss of the taxon…Priority should be given to the ex situ management of threatened taxa and threatened populations of economic or social/cultural importance.”

    The authors recognize that in situ conservation programs must continue to be the mainstay of efforts to protect habitat for lions to survive. Dr. Abell, lead author of the new report, is concerned with a lack of empirical evidence that current conservation solutions for lions are, or can work, in the long term. Given the speed of decline in lion populations; 80 – 90% since 1975, and the IUCN’s Red List classification
    assessment that “… the reduction or its causes may not have ceased OR may not be understood OR may not be reversible”, the authors suggest it is necessary to ensure that there is a back-up plan to complement in situ efforts.

    The IUCN technical guidelines for ex situ management are based on fulfilment of one or more of the following Red List criteria: “When the taxa/population is prone to effects of human activities or stochastic events or When the taxa/population is likely to become Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, or Extinct in a very short time. Additional criteria may need to be considered in some cases where taxa or populations of cultural
    importance, and significant economic or scientific importance, are threatened”
    (IUCN, 2002). The report argues that for the African lion, both of these criteria apply.

    However, not everyone is convinced. Critics of the use of captive origin lions in reintroduction programs say that such efforts have yet to present sufficient evidence of the merits of ex situ management for lions, and that claims for the need of these programs portray an overly bleak picture of current lion status and on-going conservation initiatives.

    David Youldon, co-author and Chief Operating Officer of the Zambian based African Lion & Environmental Research Trust says “in situ conservation efforts for lions are central to the species’ survival, and our charity is using a responsible development approach that encourages African solutions to these African challenges. ALERT is also investigating how previous problems of using captive origin lions for reintroduction can be addressed. As part of this effort, ALERT, and our conservation partners, released a pride of captive-bred lions into a fenced natural environment in 2010 that are self-sustaining and now have cubs that will be old enough to be considered for release into the wild in 2014. A second pride was released in 2011 that have just given birth to their first cubs. Studies undertaken by ALERT, and by independent researchers, suggests that both the released captive-bred pride and their semi-wild borne cubs are behaving and developing exactly as you would see in a free-ranging lion pride. Our intention is
    to publish the results to date from this pilot program over the coming year”.

    Read the full article at:

    • Peter Borchert

      Really guys, all us questioning folk want is for you to answer a few basic questions.

      • glamedrehl .

        you people are acting like a lynching mob, the vibe is so agressive i can feel it leeking from my screen. I am giving up trying to point out things you people are so sure of yourself that you refuse to question your accusations.

        • Lynne Leakey

          Well, after all – what is 30-50 years experience in the wild with animals, humans, conservation and all aspects of the above compared to your, what did you say, 3 weeks experience as a volunteer? Perhaps we are all missing the point of your expertise.

        • Zick Kolala

          There is no stage 3 in Zambia nor Zimbabwe get it from me (Former Lion Encounter employee) not afraid to mention my full names: Zick Kolala and the picture in my profile reflects Zick Kolala

    • Simon Espley

      blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH

    • Seb Williamson

      Dr Jackie Abell has no academic background in biology or ecology or any related field. She is a social psychologist with no professional credentials in wildlife conservation. She is also a former volunteer at the programme who continues to fund raise for ALERT.

      • didido

        am a local and not a employee but i have visited alert projects,this people have done alot to the community that surrounds them.ok tell me any of you condeming them who has helped my cousin’s child to go to school.As locals we are not blaming them yet you from there so much concerned about africa.why you are not saying anything abount suffering elephants in thailand,suffering buffalos in india then you want to attack alert.what are you saying about riding on the back of elephants with many tourists paying for that? what are you saying about big five mukuni they also walk lions there yet you come to africa and start blaming alert .The locals they love it they are benefiting.what peter you are saying that is government issue not yours.government has given them a large bush for releasing the lions stage 2 and 3.They have lions in stage 2 which have cubs to be released into stage 3 or wild when they are grown enough,infact we have many national parks which can suppot this lions me the local i know whats on the ground not you sitted on a computer and spying on africans what are you trying to achieve?go to asia see how they treat time focus on another continent you were suppose to get views from us locals how we look at alert not blaming the reason they walk with lions is to raise some funds for the lions food,releasing area needs prey staffs needs wages and other things.

        • Stephen

          Well said didido!

          As usual, comments on the web and here are mostly rubbish – based on speculation and bias – a disregard for fact or narrow mindedly focussing on one fact.

          It seems that anyone here that challenges the author of the article is dismissed – but try to look at the broader picture.

          To put the effort to repopulate lions in human terms – my father in law has cancer and participated in a new drug trial. Turns out he received the placebo – he sacrificed months receiving no real treatment – many people hate drug companies for the profits they earn, etc – but the point is that some sacrifices need to be made to advance.

          The captive bred lions will never be released – that is their sacrifice. Like the drug trial – their lives may help save future lion populations.

          You say not a single lion has been released. True. Not a single person has been truly cured of cancer – but we don’t stop trying.

          Controversy surrounds every organisation that tries to make a change in the world – is someone doing it better? Which efforts have they made that failed? Who is accountable?

          Like didido said – African Impact and ALERT have a positive affect on local communities – Lion Encounter and their volunteers have made beneficial changes to many lives – maybe too small to see from your computer screen – but in the real world every effort counts.

          Nothing in this world is perfect, but all the small, positive changes can blossom and grow. Don’t blindly give your money and time to just any charity – get the facts and put them into a world perspective.

          Yes, I support ALERT and Lion Encounter – but not with blind faith – I’ve seen first hand the changes they’ve made in Zambia. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s a start. If you can do it better, SHOW ME – and I’ll support your charity!

    • Zick Kolala

      Money paid by volunteers and tourists not mentioned, trick haa

  • Name

    I am one of the ex-volunteers at AP. I was so sure I was going to help to preserve the African lion over there and must admit loved the fact that I could get so close to these amazing creatures, feed them, walk them and yes, guilty had my pictures taken with

    While I was there I did also ask about canned hunting and the only response I
    received was : well better a captive lion that is being killed than a wild
    one.. wasn’t really satisfied with that answer. That person does not longer
    work there though.

    I was amazed how many breeding lions were kept in one enclosure.. huge males
    packed together with their only entertainment being the feeding days where they
    were able to run towards their food (again, amazing photo opportunities).

    Now, a few years later, i know better. I am not the ignorant volunteer anymore.
    One by one the lions have passed away .. fights between the males .. lions
    getting out their enclosure and into the females’ enclosures, illnesses,
    unexplainable deaths..

    Some of the staff are just inexperienced .. or maybe don’t care..

    When we ask too many questions we are being told off.. when all we want to know is the truth..what happened to them?? Simple question right?

    Human error can always occur which is normal but make sure your staff KNOWS what it’s doing.
    Let them not do foolish things when pretty blond foreign girls walk around in
    their tight shorts and skinny shirts..

    Having that said.. I still believe in what ALERT is trying to achieve !! BUT it’s the way
    that things are being done at AP that needs changing.

    Don’t just breed lions for the sake of the mighty tourist $$$$!! There are enough lions there
    that will never ever see the wild or even make it to stage 2. STOP the breeding
    until further stages can be reached.


    • glamedrehl .

      speaking for the Zambia staff, they were all dedicated persons who showed incredible handling skills. The only time I was in danger was I made a mistake they warned me about, but I was to stubborn to listen. Never made that mistake again and Always listened afterwards, never was in danger again.

      • Garth Johnson

        The point is not about the danger you may or may not have been in, it is about the future of these lions and the integrity of the programme and what it promises – “Rehabilitation and release of lions to wildlife areas”? I think not, more like a business without any conservation value. I have no doubt the workers are very committed and dedicated.

        • glamedrehl .

          I disagree

          • Simon Espley

            What do you disagree with?

          • glamedrehl .

            the entire idea that conservation must be a nonprofit venture. that track has led us to here and what is the result? A significant drop in wild life numbers. face reality, wild life is cost for African nations. The person who can find a new way for african countries to profit from wild life besides photo and gun safari’s (and both are far from profitable enough) will save wild africa.

          • Simon Espley

            Huh? Nobody said that conservation must be non-profit. Garth said that ALERT is a business without conservation value. Perhaps you’re too close to understand the distinction?

          • glamedrehl .

            the general vibe and discours of the article is that of a romantic nature loving conservationist with litte regard for social conditions of rural africa. I can tell, i study and make my thesis about conservation policies in colonial africa. The discours used by the author of this article and some of these people here is a very classic one, with a focus on conservation because the White man feels like it.

          • Simon Espley

            OK, you’ve just leapt into your own fantasy world. Enjoy.

          • AfrivanBabs

            Conservation in colonial Africa??? In what century are you living in and in what country are you anyway? This is ages ago, we here in Africa have moved on since then, just for your information. Just because you are writing a thesis does not make you an expert, you probably have not even lived here in Africa longer than a few weeks. And because the white man feels like it?? You are now even getting racist here, be careful. If you were to live here in Africa you would know that conservation is thanks to the white man and his enthusiasm to try make the world a better place, something we can not really say about our fellow black residents in most places. That is how the cookie crumbles my friend from a different planet, welcome to the real world.

          • Thando Khabo

            so who started this problem anyway? dont pat yourself on the back for ‘conserving’ we hunt for food traditionally not for trophies

          • damwansa

            you are right,these whites they think they can control us and their foolish ideas,why they dont write anything about our lions in their countries living in snow in zoo and using them to make money.this is rubbish white man view

          • Brian Kemp

            Dont talk rubbish!

          • angel

            Why do you have to profit from wildlife ?? Guess you have absolutely no concern about the protection of any animal unless you can make money from it !!

  • Simon Morgan

    Thank you for this Peter, we really need to get this out there more. I see a response from ALERT here, but wonder if there will ever be a positive response wrt to Lion Encounters from anyone else other than ALERT members? – i doubt it. Even their ex-volunteers have nothing good to say…

  • Wildlife ACT

    As a conservation based volunteer organisation we are saddened to see operations like this which as you rightfully say Peter ‘redirect money from genuine conservation activities’ and volunteer opportunities. It also frustrating for volunteers who come out to Africa to make an impact and difference to wildlife conservation and yet waste their time and funding on a practice like this – as voiced by ex-volunteers here below. Thank you for bringing this to light in your publication Peter, well done!

  • Peter

    Thanks for all the feedback so far on this important issue.

  • potential volunteer

    Great article Peter..thank you for your efforts to promote real conservation for Africa’s lions. I think lion walking should be excluded completely as an activity for tourists. Where’s the awe and wonder about a lion if you can walk with it like it’s your dog…??? The power and potency of a lion is often what evokes respect. I wanted to volunteer at Antelope Park this year, I am a local…but now I’m not so sure…quite frankly I’m disappointed, and I hope things change, and soon…going through the comments I read about the treatment of employees…and now I’m really questioning going….

  • volunteer

    I totally agree Peter! I was there as a volunteer and was apalled by what I saw. they have over a hundred lions, but there is no vet!!! I know about at least 5-6 lions that died only this year, mostly due to human errors, like not fixing a weak fence etc, but also because they are too cheap to call a vet when needed. If you have a very small cub that is covered in fungus, you see it get weaker every day, you would call a vet, wouldn’t you? Well they waited about 6 weeks and then ofcourse it was too late! the vet had to put the cub down. Not even mentioning the fact that that cub had been taken away from it’s mom at 3 weeks old… for what? for entertainment of some tourists? I thought I was going to a worthy cause, but afterwards realised my mistake… I should have spent my money in a cause that’s actually doing something for lions, not hurting them!

    And about the stage 2 program: that’s a complete joke! Athena killed cubs, Phyre her cubs were killed twice… and there are no other predators around. The lionesses of the Ngamo pride kill cubs from their own pride! Why? they ignore the question… In my humble opinion it’s because they don’t have enough space and food to let the pride get bigger… You know they put in dead horses or cows when they can’t make a kill on their own? Scavenge feed they call it… Don’t you think it might give a problem when they release those lions in the wild? if they have the taste for livestock???

    The big question is: When will they release them? they don’t have a stage 3, let along a stage 4… and from what I hear, all the money that comes in goes to new projects, not stage 3 or 4…
    I hope a lot of possible volunteers read this and decide to spend their money on a good cause, not a party place like Antelope Park. Glad somebody is finally doing something to stop this charade!

    • Gail

      Thanks for the alert. We should, of course know that anything that advertises “walking with lions” is a bit iffy. Would be nice if there were some public exposure of this particular business (and that is what it is, after all).

    • glamedrehl .

      in Zambia they did have a stage 3 and stage 4 is nearly completed in burundi

      • volunteer

        I never heard of a stage 3 anywhere! even on Roaring with pride they said they haven’t made it to stage 3. and if they had one, why isn’t it there still?

        • glamedrehl .

          there is one in Zimbabwe and in Zambia

          • Camp Botswana

            Unfortunately, glamedrehl you have been misinformed. There is no stage 3 in Zimbabwe or Zambia and Burundi is years away from being an option for stage 4. Please be sure your information is 100% before commenting on an important conversation.

          • glamedrehl .

            I was there, they do have a stage three are you calling me a liar?

          • glamedrehl .

            just go to there site people they have information concerning stage 3 in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Have criticism please do but please don’t play me for a fool cause I am not

          • volunteer

            I know for a fact that stage 3 does NOT exist in Zimbabwe!!! looks like they played you for a fool

          • glamedrehl .

            ok i made a mistake (it has been a while) they told me (in Zambia) that due to the succes of the lions in stage 2 and the lack of funds to create a full stage 3 they plan on skipping stage 3 and try to release a group from stage 2 in Burundi; i am terribly sorry and I stand corrected. but on other points i brought up, i do stand my ground

          • Schroederville

            glamedrehl, it’s a rare and evolved person that can admit when they are wrong, that shows strength of character. Thank you. Very refreshing these days. I always try to admit when I’m wrong. This is a divisive subject, there are passionate people who care about saving the lions.

          • Zick

            I’m a former ALERT/Lion Encounter employee, there is no stage 3 in Zambia no Zimbabwe. They cheated u

          • Christina

            I am here right now, there is no stage 3.

      • Peter Borchert

        Hi glamedrehl, You imply here and say elsewhere that you don’t agree with my views and that is fine of course, but I would really appreciate it if you could expand on this. If you have facts that contradict what I say please share them.

    • Judy Jones

      Please, please, start a Facebook page with volunteer experiences from this outfit. People need to know.

    • Kathy Kat Holland

      So so sad to read this, but I’m not surprised. EVERYTHING now is done for money, with NO thought whatsoever for the poor lions & the little cubs. God! I HATE m an with a passion.. 🙁

    • Mangini

      good article but voice and visibility should be given also to serious company that promote this like the one I am cooperating with. Not everybody is the same. There are centers and people that really work hard to preserve wild animals. Keep the good job on!

    • Christopher Clark

      Hi there. I am busy writing an investigative article about Lion Encounter. I would very much like to learn more about your experiences. Please send me an email address if you would be interested in talking to me. My email is I hope to hear back from you on this. More exposure is needed on this topic. Thanks, Chris

      • damwansa

        as a local who visits many projects why you are so much on lion encounter not mukuni big the way can you tell us too what are those lions in europe zoo are doing in snow?you write nothing about it because its outside africa?

    • Carmen Berdan
    • Schroederville

      I almost got duped into volunteering at this place! I repeatedly asked if the lions there were ever given over to canned hunting facilities and I got run around vague answers that could have been interpreted various ways. I decided to halt my trip and do some research before I head to Africa to “help” the lions. The prospect of a close encounter was appealing to a huge animal lover like myself, but the more I learned the more I was appalled! NO cub petting or lion ‘walking’ for this volunteer! I want to make a real difference. I think I should look up Dereck Joubert, I have seen his name many times in my searches. Thank you for this article, it needs to be widely read.

    • Kevin

      I wanted to thank you for your comment “Volunteer” after reading what you said along with this and various other articles I have decided against my previous decision to volunteer with this organization. The cute pictures and alluring promises to hold one of these amazing animals was a huge magnet, I read other articles saying there was controversy over the subject but didn’t think mere controversy was an issue. However after reading all this I’ve removed, without a shadow of a doubt, any thought about volunteering here. I wanted to let you know that at the very least you stopped ME from making a huge mistake. Thank you. I will however continue the search for a REAL conservation effort I can dedicate time and money to. But rest assured I’ll steer clear of programs such as the ones ALERT offers.

  • Cristina Garcia Brindley

    Great piece Peter. Thank you so much for highlighting this issue once again. And thank you to all the ex-volunteers for their input. Not enough people know about these schemes. This is NOT conservation.

    • glamedrehl .

      as an exvolunteer, currently writing his history theisis on conservation policies in Africa at the university of Ghent in Belgium, I do not agree with this article.

      • Cristina Garcia Brindley

        Why not?

        • Garth Johnson

          Elaborate please!! You can’t just throw out a statement without some sort of supporting information.

          • glamedrehl .

            I posted a long comment under the name glamedrehl, i will not repeat myself.

          • Simon Espley

            You are as vague as the ALERT press releases. Blah blah blah. Make sense and people will take you seriously.

          • glamedrehl .

            I posted numerous comments explaining my position, if you are to lazy to read them all then that is your problem.

          • volunteer

            you are clearly brainwashed by Alert and too young to give a decent answer…

          • glamedrehl .

            so if i disagree with all of you I am brainwashed, sure……

          • Simon Espley

            We’re just hearing defensive claims from you. Perhaps if you put more effort into accuracy and substantiation people would take you more seriously.

          • glamedrehl .

            for the last time read my other comments, djeezes is that really so hard to grasp?

          • Lynne Leakey

            Have stayed out of this for as long as I can – but must say, Glamedrehl, that I have read all of your comments and have yet to find anything to grasp! These forums are for exchanging and learning – I would offer that you have much to learn and why not benefit from all the experts that are offering their comments, observations and expertise so as to enrich your own future in a field to which you are obviously committed.

          • Bob Frump

            Seriously, glamedrehl. Make the argument. What you said earlier is that white people don’t understand Africa. Fair enough. But beyond that, what is your point? How specifically does this program, be it white, black or purple, help lions? Sounds like a Sea World park with captured Orcas. No stage three since 1999? Hmm.

          • Dave

            sadly ignorance and misunderstanding abound on these posts. There is not one project – even human orientated ones – that has not faced a barrage of criticism and doubt. I am an intelligent well balanced ecologist who is prepared to listen to all sides – but the way in which most of you are offering opinions is laughable especially as most have no first hand experience of ALERT or LE, or indeed seem overtaken by the emotion of bunny huggers – I laughed hard about the comment regarding the feeding of the lions – somebody needs to enlighten this person that there are no vegetarian or gluten intolerant lions as far as I know…
            Understanding the challenges of any charity in the web of political and bureaucratic challenges that are specific to Africa will help people who care to take a deep breathe and try and see the other point of view objectively

          • Schroederville

            While I completely agree with everything you said in your very well written comment, I think the term “bunny huggers’ is fairly offensive. Nothing wrong with people who love animals, that’s what gets us into conservation in the first place, no need for name calling.

      • lionman

        If you think releasing genetically corrupted captive origin lions into the wild is conservation you need to go get your head examined sweetie !

    • IloveAfrica

      I agree. Unfortunately there is a lot more faul play in the name of conservation in Africa and a lot of organisations who make sh…..loads of money that way. Just make your calculations how much money the volunteer scheme alone floods into these companie’s pockets!! . I run a guest farm in Namibia and I know that some volunteers visiting conservation projects in our country are charged the same amount I charge for a room with 3 meals, game drives, the lot , and these volunteers stay in really low class housing, basic food rations and really dirty work. I am shocked each time that people really fall for something like this and are willing to pay so much money for volunteering work which in most cases is nothing but cheap labour, paying for itself!! When will these people wake up out of their romantic dream about Africa????

      • Cristina Garcia Brindley

        Really sad that people don’t see beyond that.

  • Carmen Berdan

    I have friends going to Africa this fall, they have Walking with Lions optional. I told them not to do it. Another organization exploiting the poor lions, Shame!

    • glamedrehl .

      all the lions used in the Zambia program were bought from SA lionfarms that provide canned industry with “game” so if anything they saved those lions from a far more horrible life.

      • Simon Espley

        What nonsense.

        • glamedrehl .

          so life of a lion in the canned hunting industry is less worse then their program? now you are walking on a very slippery road my friend

          • Simon Espley

            End of discussion boet. You live in your own (tiny) world.

      • animalcompassionate

        I’m not sure that a quick death is any worse than these lions living years in captivity in tiny, crowded enclosures after spending two years walking the bush.
        I’d rather be killed than spend my life in jail for committing no crime.
        Don’t get me wrong, they are both awful fates. but there are fates worse than death.
        The animals at AP are suffering!

    • Schroederville

      I hope they listened to you, Carmen.

  • Luke Hunter

    Many thanks for the informed piece. Aside from the points you raise, the great nonsense behind schemes like ALERT’s is that they are simply unnecessary. If the objective is truly to restore lion populations, translocation of wild lions has over 20 years of experience showing it works, it is less expensive and it carries less risks for both lion and human than using captives. ALERT’s pseudo-scientific reports, which they can only publish on their website and not in the scientific literature, are simply not credible. Folks can find more information here on why releasing captive lions doesnt help:
    Luke Hunter PhD
    President, PANTHERA

    • glamedrehl .

      they are not releasing captive lions Luke, they plan on releasing in national parks lions born in prides in stage three. cubs born in a natural pride, with parents hunting for food themselves(they killed all their big prey so quicly they had to switch to remains of animals to be placed in the terrain for them to find using vultures as guides)

      • Luke Hunter

        Read our paper and inform yourself. This project has been going since 1999 and they have not released a single lion. Wild-wild translocations have restored over 500 cats in the same period. ALERT’s so-called ‘business model’ doesn’t make sense. For all the astonishing sums you and other volunteers have paid them over the years, where are the populations of restored lions? In every way, this approach simply does not matter.

        • BryanRitchie

          Interesting paper, thanks for that. I did notice your figures seemed to date from ALERT 2009. Would you by any chance have any information on the success or failure of releases since that date? I have written to ALERT too in an attempt to get more info.

          Thanks and regards,

        • BryanRitchie

          Having now read the other two papers (Youldon and your response) it really does seem that the direct conservation value of ALERT is weak. Do you have any thoughts on the effects of many westerners being able to get close to such creatures? I cannot speak for any trend but in my own case it certainly had the effect of making me want to ditch my job at the time and get into conservation work.
          I imagine such similar effects would be hard to quantify and I am afraid I need to improve my skills at looking up papers! 3 Months into my MSc but so much more to learn!

      • volunteer

        what I saw is that they didn’t manage to make a kill in almost 10 days so they put down a horse(!) to feed them… but I do believe they got better at hunting now.

        • glamedrehl .

          at luke hunter wild-wild relaese programs are good, but considering the drop in wild lion numbers it is vital to consider a stage program based on captive lions. this program does matter because all your fancy programs have not stopped wild lion numbers dropping.

          • glamedrehl .

            furthermore the alert project is not from 1999 but from 2005

          • Sean Armstrong

            For your information ‘glamedrehl, Andy Connolly purchased Antelope Park in 1987. The Conolly’s were breeding lions as far back as the 1980’s. In 1998 he branched out into tourism and founded African Encounter. ALERT may have been started in 2005, but he has been breeding lions long before!

          • glamedrehl .

            i am defending alert and the people and project in Zambia nothing more

          • Sean Armstrong

            Organisations like ALERT are serving to create a mystery around a myth. They talk of Conservation, ‘lions becoming extinct in the wild’, they seek for donations to increase the numbers of these genetically disadvantaged and pointless animals! Funds would be much more usefully used on genuine conservation projects rather than something that has no conservation value and given a ‘conservation’ name.

            Walking With Lions Is NOT Conservation!

            This is a meal ticket for people who seek to try and use an animal for their own motives. It is a return to the circus show.

            Serious Conservation organisations should really address the facts and not jump on the mis-propaganda bandwagon. It doesn’t help that, while captive breeding is being conducted and these lions are being ‘humanised’; their natural habitat continues to be destroyed, or otherwise made less hospitable to its former resident!
            Where do they plan to release these lion from ‘Stage 4’?
            What have they done to ensure the fate of these lions isn’t going to be the same as the lions that once lived in these areas!
            They need to first protect their constant environment in order to save this species!

            This project of ALERT’s has no conservation value at all, but to financially benefit their own selfish needs and I’m sure they don’t need you defending them either!

          • Stephen

            Misinformed – see my comment below

          • Schroederville

            Well said, Sean. I agree.

          • lionman

            Given your being basically inoculated against the truth I’ve got to wonder if you work for Antelope Park or one of its medusa heads like Alert or others.

          • lionman

            And canned hunts have been rising since 1997. Now its linked to and feeds a rising bone trade for Asians and their fake magical folk medicines.

          • Schroederville

            This needs to be stopped! It’s a complex problem, but a good start would be to make it illegal.

          • lionman

            The more I look at your posts I do see that you probably work for Antelope Park. The fact is it is best if Alert NEVER releases any of these captive origin lions. They are a product of decades of inbreeding and are in fact corrupted genetic stock. Alert is just a bloody con. Youldon once even admitted that they may have transferred nearly 40 lions that may have ended in canned hunts. These goons get rich while real conservation runs on a shoestring budget.

        • animalcompassionate

          OMG they put down a horse to feed the lions? That is flat out wrong! Why is the lions life more important than the poor horse? I’m sickened reading this.

          • candace

            We put down livestock everyday to feed humans, what is different to feed predators? They have to eat meat it is the circle of life. Yes they raise and regularly kill donkeys mainly to feed the lions, what would you suggest? Feed all the lions tofu burgers?

    • Peter Borchert

      Thanks for the feedback Luke. I encourage everyone who has contributed comment here to follow the work and views of Panthera.

    • Guest

      Luke, I’m confused on Pathera’s stance on lions. How do you advocate for saving the lion but then also support the trophy hunting of them. With so very few lions left in the wild shouldn’t we be in support of banning lion hunting?

      • Schroederville

        YES, I’m wondering this too, Luke. HOW can organizations like Panthera ethically support trophy hunting? Seems counterproductive and wrong. Trophy hunting is selfish, sadistic and worthless and it should have been banned long ago. Only rich egotistical dirtbags participate in it.

  • glamedrehl .

    I can only speak for the Zambia part of the program where I was a volunteer for three weeks, but I disagree with the author of this article. First there are problems, yes that is true, but then again this is a long term experimental project. second I talked to most of the staff in Zambia and they were very strongly opposed to canned hunting and selling of lion bones, I tried to catch them off guard a few times but never dit they show any sign of acceptance towards these practices(so is the claim of the author that they provide lions to hunting companies a fact based accusation? I think not). third the author mentions the taming of wild lions, the lions used in the program are born in captivity, the point of the walks is to make them capable of hunting in the wild again as lions do need to be introduced to the wild early on. fourth ALERT is a bit of a wild card in conservation circles because it claims buisness must be involved in conservation, this propably spooks a lot of romantic nature lovers but is a legitimate stand considering the financial situation of many african nations and the fact that wild life is still a cost. After all they have to explain their public why funds for social programs are diverted to wild life conservation. five yes not every lion gets to live in the larger park as a pride or to be released in the national park(talks are under way with Burundi) but we must realise, we are trying to save a species not individual lions. six they might be wrong, they might be, but all other great plans in the last 100 years have failed as well so why are the architects of those projects pretending to know the right formula?

    • Peter Borchert

      Please read Luke Hunter’s comments earlier about relocation of lions and the substantial successes there.

      • glamedrehl .

        I am not saying those programs are bad, but they are insufficiant considering the drop in wild lion numbers. These people of ALERT are brave enough to realise wild lions might come extinct and are trying a different approach. you can pray and hope it doens’t come to that but optimism is a luxery in these circumstances

        • glamedrehl .

          ALERT is also trying to make wild life more profitable for countries and local communities. wild life is a cost for african nations and as long that is the case or they see it like that, then all those wild lion relocation programs are pointless

  • JBR04

    All the comments are too polite: ALERT and Walking with Lions is simply fraudulent, exploiting naive tourists to profit from their ignorance and love of baby animals. That money should be spent on genuine conservation that benefits wildlife and habitat protection.

    • BryanRitchie

      Is it possible that without ALERT, that money would never go into the pot in the first place? Those tourists might instead just never spend that money and maybe not even visit the area? People who volunteer with ALERT do some work with local communities, schools and orphanages. Should that be a factor in this discussion?

      I myself have no vested interest and just want to explore these issues further – and see what everyone thinks

  • Quentin Jones

    At last a major tourism publication has the balls the tackle this ‘conservation con’. I’ve been following the ALERT project since it started in Victoria Falls in 2005. See my blog for the full history on this unethical project.

    • Carmen Berdan

      Great work, finally more people start to understand what ALERT is all about

  • Guest

    allegedly Panthera support hunting of lions, ALERT run reintroduction programs with no actual reintroductions…are there any Lion conservation groups that don’t have the wiff of dodgyiness about them?

  • Crackers

    allegedly Panthera support hunting of lions on private game reserves, ALERT run reintroduction
    programs with no actual reintroductions…are there any Lion
    conservation groups that don’t have the wiff of dodgyiness about them

    • Luke Hunter

      Good grief. Is it too much to ask for some informed comment? Panthera does not ‘support hunting’. But we support the right of African range states to find as many diverse mechanisms to give value to their wildlife resources, in the hope it contributes to their conservation. I personally despise the hunting of big cats. But before you throw out ignorant one-liners, please understand the consequences of a simplistic ‘all hunting is bad’ argument. You could start by reading this:

      And before you reply with the typical criticism I have received from this piece, Panthera has never accepted a cent from the hunting industry

      • glamedrehl .

        But we support the right of African range states to find as many diverse mechanisms to give value to their wildlife resources, in the hope it contributes to their conservation. so you do support big game hunting even if not directly, di i sense some hypocrisy?
        further more this article is also not very informed, accusing a conservation group of selling lion bones without any proof is ver very low.

        • Simon Espley

          Perhaps you could quote where the accusation is made? I see no such accusations. All I can see is Dereck Joubert pointing out the connection between canned lion operations and the bone trade.

          • glamedrehl .

            The fear and, in some quarters, strongly held suspicion is that via some form of wildlife laundering system lions will find their way into one or more of the many lion breeding farms that serve canned lion hunting operations.

            This would certainly not be conservation in any shape or form. In fact it would mean quite cynically that conservation money from volunteer internships, fees to walk with lions and donations is being diverted from really good conservation projects into operations of questionable ethical standing.
            he is making a link between alert and the canned hunting industry and so a connection to lion bone trade.

          • Peter Borchert

            Stating that there is a fear and suspicion that something will happen is not an accusation. If I and others are wrong in having fear and suspicion all you have to do is explain how and why these concerns are unfounded. If lions are not being released into recognised conservation areas (and not one has been) there eventually has to be an unsustainable build up in the early stages. What happens to these lions, where will they go? Tell us.

          • glamedrehl .

            again i can only talk about the Zambia project(btw howcome the pics are from Zambia but you talk only about zim?) and I can assure you they are not selling bones.

          • Crackers

            I would use the same point in regards to the link I posted above and comments by glamedrehl on hunting support that you replied to. If i am wrong then it should be easy enough to show me why my concerns are unfounded. ALERT comes across to me as at the best as highly questionable BUT it is very difficult to really understand the veracity of the claims when they are put forward by what could be described as a ‘rival’ organisation and one that refuses to properly address concerns about its policies.

      • Crackers

        Hardly ill informed. Curt and poorly worded probably but I have posted and emailed more lengthy questions on the matter before and been ignored so I hadn’t bothered writing more this time.

        for example I posted on pantheras fb page-“Alerts questionable ‘release’ programs that haven’t actually released any
        lions are controversial, debatable and should be questioned if they have
        no benefits. But by the same token Pantheras qualified support of Lion
        hunting should also be debated and questioned as well
        is it not a similar ethical situation advocating that rich white
        hunters should be allowed to hunt lions because of the cash inflow to
        the economy (as it rarely goes to conservation of wild lions) and
        allowing rich white tourists/ volunteers to walk/cage lions etc. Both
        seem rather suspect to me.”

        The REASON I question is that I see Panthera doing so much good and yet the link above does a lot to confuse those that aren’t perhaps so well informed and that confusion makes people suspicious. In my case more so when my questions were ignored repeatedly.

        You say ‘Panthera does not support hunting’. ‘BUT we support the right of African range states to find as many diverse mechanisms to give value to their wildlife resources, in the hope it contributes to their conservation.’ , its hard for me to understand that SPIN but it seems to me that second part means that if African range states then decide hunting lions is ok as it gives value to their wildlife resources, then you do support that? GOOD GRIEF is it too much to ask for some plain english and losing the politician type answers…you might find there is less confusion on the matter.

        ‘And before you reply with the typical criticism I have received from this piece, Panthera has never accepted a cent from the hunting industry’ – irrelevant and missing my point entirely, I never suggested you get any funds from that source.

        • Crackers

          Like I said Pantheras qualified support of Lion
          hunting should also be debated and questioned as well…The section of the document below signed by you Luke clearly shows you have support for some type of Lion hunting.
          You really should withdraw your first comment in reply to me in this thread as it seems even more presumptuous now.

          Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R9-ES-2012-0025
          Division of Policy and Directives Management
          U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
          4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203

          February 8, 2013

          Dear Dr. Brisendine and Colleagues,

          While estimates vary and exact counts are non existent, it is estimated
          that approximately 30,000 African lions remain in the wild. Their
          long-term survival is threatened primarily by loss of habitat,
          retaliatory killing over depredation on livestock, poaching for bone
          sales to the Middle and Far East, snaring, and the loss of prey.

          There are concerns about the negative impact of trophy hunting on lion
          populations but the extent of the effects is unknown. The Lion
          Conservation Task Force (LCTF) does agree that with the ongoing decline
          in global populations of lions and the lion’s range…that reform is
          warranted in the trophy lion hunting industry, but we are concerned that
          an up-listing to Endangered status in the US may have unexpected
          negative consequences for conservation. With 60% of the current sport
          hunted trophies being imported into the US, up-listing would virtually
          put an end to the trophy hunting industry in many areas by making it
          economically unfeasible with resultant impact on the viability of
          hunting as a form of land use, but would not influence other human
          causes of lion mortality.

          There is an old saying in Africa: “It
          must pay for it to stay”. While this may be foreign to our way of
          thinking in the US…it is a fact of life in Africa and one that must be

          Lion hunting gives value to the lion and the land
          they inhabit. This value transforms into habitat preservation, acts as a
          deterrent against poaching and retaliatory killing, revenue to wildlife
          authorities for conservation in areas that would otherwise be
          unsupported (most hunting blocks are unsuitable to photo-tourisms), and
          continued revenue for under funded wildlife authorities. Rather than
          eliminating ways for wildlife to generate income, we need to find more
          ways for rural Africans to benefit from wildlife.

          LCTF Recommendations:

          • Primarily, we support reform of lion hunting rather than trophy
          importation restrictions. Science-based management must be implemented
          by all range countries to ensure that lion hunting is beneficial rather
          than detrimental to the long term survival of the species. Research has
          shown that there is a non-impact huntable subset of male lions. Thus, we
          have defined the ‘Huntable Male Lion’.

          The Definition is as follows:

          The hunting and scientific communities agree that lion hunting must be
          biologically sustainable, in which harvests should have no negative
          long-term impact on lion populations. An essential step in attaining
          sustainability is the adoption of standards on what is a ‘huntable’ male
          lion; that is, a lion that can be hunted without any negative effect on
          the sustainability of the local population from which it is removed.

          The most important factor to consider is age. The exact age of a
          huntable male lion is dependent upon many regional factors such as
          habitat and associated differences in lion ecology and social structure
          and thus, may vary slightly regionally, but the general concept holds
          true for all. The below definition has been endorsed by scientists
          working in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.

          Huntable male lions
          are defined as those male lions whose off-take has no negative impact
          on the sustainability of local lion population dynamics. Research has
          shown that these are typically lions six years of age or more that have
          completed at least one breeding cycle. To reduce risks of infanticide,
          males of any age known to be heading prides or known to be part of a
          coalition heading prides with dependent cubs (18 months old or less)
          should not be hunted. Based on these considerations, a huntable male
          lion is at least six years of age and is not known to head a pride or be
          part of a coalition heading a pride with dependent cubs. The ideal
          huntable lion is an older individual known to be a transient, that is,
          no longer in breeding association with any pride.

          For the
          long-term sustainability of this valuable resource, if the maturity or
          pride status of a lion is in question, it is strongly encouraged that
          the hunter foregoes taking that lion. Research models have confirmed
          that responsible hunting does not alter wild lion population dynamics if
          restricted to males which meet the criteria of a huntable lion.

          Colleen Begg, Ph.D
          Project Leader, Niassa Carnivore Project
          Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique

          J. Lane Easter, DVM
          Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons
          Co-founding member, Lion Conservation Task Force

          George Hartley, BA, LL.B
          Professional Hunter
          Tanzania Game Tracker Safaris

          Luke Hunter, Ph.D

          Aaron Neilson
          Professional Hunter
          President, Global Hunting Resources
          Co-founding member, Lion Conservation Task Force

          Craig Packer, Ph.D.
          Distinguished McKnight University Professor
          Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior
          University of Minnesota
          Principal Investigator, Serengeti Lion Project

          Paula A. White, Ph.D
          Director, Zambia Lion Project
          Center for Tropical Research
          University of California, Los Angeles USA

          Karyl L. Whitman, Ph.D
          Wildlife Biologist
          Co-Author, A Hunter’s Guide to Aging Lions in Eastern and Southern Africa

          The LCTF is working to accomplish global acceptance of this definition
          and currently in the US…the Dallas Safari Club has adopted it and Safari
          Club International has it under advisement and consideration for
          adoption. In Africa, the Tanzania Professional Hunting Association is
          considering adoption. We will continue to strive for universal
          acceptance of this definition.

          • Secondarily, the LCTF also
          supports law reform in all range countries. We would like to see
          universal adoption of laws enforcing rules similar to those of the
          Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique.

          Lion Hunting Rules Proposed by LCTF
          1. General Rules

          1.1 Elected trophies:
          • Only male lions may be hunted.

          • Only adult males, which are a minimum of 6 years old, may be ETC ETC

  • Garth Johnson

    A great article that puts the way I feel into very effective words. The number of these businesses that are popping up all over the place is alarming. As are the number of people paying for the “privilege” of volunteering to help (basically to touch and feel) these animals. Expect to see a corresponding increase in the number of injuries as well.

  • Daisydot

    Thank you Peter for a truly informative and on the money article. If not for passionate conservationists such as yourself, Derek Joubert and Luke Hunter (and everyone else fighting the cause of lions in Africa), we the public would be even less informed about the evils of such “centres”.
    Lions are Africa’s pride and joy – they are the king of the jungle and on everyone’s bucket list when visiting a game reserve. It is our job as custodians of this continent, to protect and make sure that unscrupulous rehabilitation centres such as “Alert” are made public. Great article, keep them coming

  • StephDK

    Thank you for bringing this discussion to the table. The timing couldn’t have been better. I’ve been involved in some forum discussions with travelers thru Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). OAT used to offer a “Walk With Lions” optional tour on their Ultimate Africa, Out of Africa & South Africa trips, but they still offer Elephant-back safaris, which in my opinion, is just as shady of a business as WWL. A link to this article was provided by one of the travelers as a way to discourage future travelers from taking part in this “adventure”. It’s truly disgusting & shameful to see companies exploiting lions & elephants in a land where both these animals’ numbers are seriously in danger. Now is the time when TRUE conservation needs to be taking the reigns & people should be donating their hard-earned money to those causes, instead of these places. You go to Africa to see wild lions & elephants… why would you want to exploit them for your own entertainment? Stay home & go to a zoo if that’s all you care about.

    • Crackers

      How does one know which are the TRUE organisations to support exactly?

      • Schroederville

        Lots of research, I guess.

  • Andrew

    Thanks for the article Peter.

    I have been there a few years ago. More in an investigate
    way than to participate, and I didn’t walk with the lions, but listened to
    their rhetoric while doing two of their tours.

    Sadly I didnt feel as sad for the exploited lions as I did
    for the exploited and indoctrinated volunteers who became experts on lions from
    their brief stay. Furthermore the amount of good will and money pouring into
    this effort was sickening, as it was clear that in 20 years they have
    contributed a great big zero to conservation. There are just a whole bunch of
    misguided “lion experts” roaming the planet now.

    Places like this should be stopped, as they parasite off
    genuine conservation efforts and should be called out for the frauds that they
    are. I will add that there are many other voluntourist businesses on the same

    • animalcompassionate

      Andrew, the only good that came of my stay at AP was some of the education I got about lion behavior. However, I read and watched everything I could about lions for months before my trip to AP and still read everything I can to this day. I’ve always loved lions but my experience at AP didn’t make me an expert on them but rather opened the door for me to want to learn about true conservation and about wild lions.

  • No more returning volunteer

    I was at LE Zambia in 2010 and returned in 2011. There had been a markable change between my two volunteer periods. What I witnessed in 2011 was that the client walks had increased in numbers and clients who participated in every walk had also increased a lot. What LE asserts is that the lions have to be walked so they can learn the skills of being a wild lion e.g hunt. How can they be able to do so surrounded by 15-20 people talking, petting and chasing them form place to place?? During my two weeks stay in 2011 not a singel lion was able to neither stalk nor chase because there were clients all the time – as many as 12 in addition to the volunteers and handlers. The lions were the ones who were chased from place to place to satisfy the clients – who had payed for their pictures with the lions. It was heartbreaking to witness the way the lions were treated. There was only a very few walks where the lions were able to act like most lions do at daytime; resting in the shade the most of the time.

    I have to say the local staff, the handlers, were very dedicated to their jobs and treated the lions as good as their working conditions allowed them to. The local staff are not the ones who get profit from this industry as their salaries are very low.

    If one ask the management staff questions which can be tricky to answer they only refer to ALERT´s web site. A web site that doesn´t tell you a singel word about the progress when it comes to how many lions have been released into other NP´s for example. They really don´t want to answer. I have made my own thoughts about why……and of course there hasn´t been released ONE!!

    I hadn´t been at LE very long in 2011 before I understood by myself I would never ever go back!! I was convinced this was not a conservation project but a money-making project for the owners. And the lions destiny is determined to be money machines. Afterwards, I rather feel sad I left so much money to a project like this, I wish I had donated my money to a real conservation project!!

    • Christopher Bartlett

      Two clients of mine went in September 2012 (after i had told them I thought that it had no beneficial conservation effect). There were six other people there that afternoon, and the guidses said they had had 30 in the morning. THat’s close to $5000 in a day, not in peak season, in one of the three locations,

      • Schroederville

        WOW! Staggering…

  • PJ

    Thank you so much for giving attention to this issue. I applaud conservation efforts where there is good research, transparency and accountability and am happy to promote such programs. There is so much marketing hype with this operation and so little transparency that it puts it all in question. I hope that researchers and reporters will give attention to this program. May we not be fooled when it comes to such an important cause.

  • Ken Watkins

    This place is a total disgrace, just set up to con money from ignorant tourists!

  • Paula White

    Bravo, Peter, for this excellent article. As a lion
    researcher in Zambia, I have been combating these “breed and release” schemes
    for years. However, it is far easier to tempt tourists with pictures of cute n’
    cuddly cubs then it is to educate the public on what is really going on in
    these breeding centers. Hopefully your article will reach the same audience
    routinely pitched to by a growing number of walk-with-lions schemes.

    It is ALL about money, and in order to attract tourists and
    paying volunteers these facilities need a constant supply of young cubs. Lions
    are prolific breeders and can live a very long time in captivity, but the cubs
    are only safe to interact with for a short period – do the math, folks! And
    “safe” is a relative term, as numerous tourists have been injured by young
    lions in these places.

    Beyond lacking any conservation value, it saddens me
    tremendously to see Africa and its animals reduced to the status of an
    amusement park. These hands-on interactions with captive-bred animals very effectively
    take the “wild” out of “wildlife”. How tragic that people pay to pet a
    hand-raised lion when their time and money could be better spent supporting
    actual lion conservation, e.g., visiting Zambia’s National Parks and viewing
    the wild lions that live and roam freely therein.

    Paula White, PhD
    Director, Zambia Lion Project

    • dtan123

      Hello Paula,

      Firstly, Thank you for your post. I am writing to hopefully receive some informed advice. I really want to become involved in the conservation of animals in africa, for my own personnel reasons, and have been trying to find a hands on project where i feel i can actually make a difference, not just through some money at something. I have been looking into many wildlife projects such as wildlife orphanages or rehabilitation centers. I really would like to find a ‘worthwhile’ project to get involved in as this is an avenue i strongly desire to embark on.

      I look forward to your reply and hope to hear from you very soon
      Thank you

  • Why don’t people go to places where they can see “real” animals and birds? There are hundreds of options to get genuine animal experiences in Africa, why waste your money on such rubbish like this? So called “Nature reserves” with more or less tame animals and even predators beeing fed to keep them alive, what is the meaning exept sucking money from tourists? Go to real wild areas in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Krüger, Botswana ++ and have an experience for life! Safari njema – Hamba gahle
    Stein, Norway

  • peanuts_2012

    Great Article. I hope this will open peoples eyes to this business.
    I would love to see a similar piece on the elephant sanctuary’s in South Africa, as I am torn with these between the pros and cons.

  • Clarissa Hughes

    An audit on the whole ‘processing’ of the lions is a good call, Peter. What happens to the lions is a moral imperative if we are using them for our edutainment.

    Now to a more contentious point: is walking with lions inherently good or evil? Here I have a harder time condemning it. There are certainly dangers, which people need to be made aware of, but if they are prepared to take the risks then so be it. The clue is in the term edutainment. Many people, in fact most people, have so lost touch with wildness that they are oblivious to the feelings it generates in us – the mystique as Dereck calls it. And it is in this educative process – not of intellect but of feeling – that I think there is a benefit to interacting with wildlife.

    Touching an animal, being so closely in its presence, when it has the power to turn the tables on you really brings home how vulnerable wildlife is at this stage of human history. Psychologically it is a parallel to the story of Androcles who befriends the lion. There is a huge element of trust in the interchange. If this generates the appreciation required to motivate people to protect wild animals then I cannot see it totally in a bad light. It’s a substitute (a poor one certainly) for real wildness just as a zoo is. Nevertheless walking with lions, if done properly and ethically (I must emphasise that), can be a tool in rewilding the human spirit.

    I wrote a piece on walking with elephants that makes the same point:

    • Desiree

      Glad to see this comment. I am hugely conflicted when I see these “wildlife encounter” offers. It is a great experience to get close to a lion or an elephant, so I kinda want to do it. But I also see the other side of it and wonder if by participating, I am doing harm to them in the long term? I do feel that once you have encountered a lion or an elephant up close, you can never again be indifferent to their plight. If the experience changes hearts and minds, maybe it is worthwhile to conservation??

  • Ian Michler

    Great blog Peter and I agree 100% – these operations are nothing more than lucrative money-spinning businesses and this includes the volunteer programmes that dupe youngsters into believing they are making a contribution to conservation. The major volunteer recruiting agencies for ALERT belong to the same group of companies. All the global tourism operators need to be made fully aware of this as do the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments.

  • Molly

    I volunteered at Antelope park last year an was appalled at what I saw. At that stage there were 96 caged lions that were in the post “Tourist stage.” The dung in their cages, (ie lions no longer walking with tourist), showed that ALL the lions were suffering from Diarrhea and their were no left over bones to be picked up. Their diet seemed to be only offal .

  • lynne leakey

    A picture is worth a thousand words! (can’t figure out how to add my picture – go to to see)

    In my opinion and observations, guests are misinformed about the four step rehabilitation program where these young lions are gradually weaned to participate in some kind of “Walking with the Lions” Encounter types of tourist attractions to graduate to phase 2,3,4 which is final release into the wild only there is little success as the goal is usually “graduation” back to a canned hunting farm. But this scheme allows some money to made off them along the way. Went to check one out and have photos of young cubs cowering for client photo ops while “handlers stood behind with raised sticks. As soon as “cubs” realise their own strength, they are moved on to phase 2 – away from public. During the interval, there is sometimes misjudgment and a guest (or handler employee) gets injured. That news is quickly covered up but news travels –

    News travels. How do I know? I was there shortly after one of these incidents. What did I do? Asked questions, got comments and answers. Wrote letters, received an explanation full of double talk, false assurance and BS – compared notes with other lion behavioral experts, signed petitions to shut these places down and make sure no guest of mine supports the first phase (none of my guests are hunters except with cameras), and still it continues. Trace back who owns the “breeding” and “canned hunting” farms and who own the tourist attractions of walking with the lion and the supposed rescue and release centers. Interesting in many cases. Draw your own conclusions

    PLEASE SIGN PETITIONS—born-to-be-killed—lion-hunting-in-south-africa.html

  • lynne leakey

    Thanks to Peter Borchert and Africa Geo for giving people a true perspective on this appalling practice.

  • Lynne Leakey

    In my opinion and observations, guests are misinformed about the four step rehabilitation program where these young lions are gradually weaned to participate in some kind of “Walking with the Lions” Encounter types of tourist attractions to graduate to phase 2,3,4 which is final release into the wild only there is little success as the goal is usually “graduation” back to a canned hunting farm. But this scheme allows some money to made off them along the way. Went to check one out and have photos of young cubs cowering for client photo ops while “handlers stood behind with raised sticks. As soon as “cubs” realise their own strength, they are moved on to phase 2 – away from public. During the interval, there is sometimes misjudgment and a guest (or handler employee) gets injured. That news is quickly covered up but news travels –
    Lynne commented on a link.

    Stop Canned Hunting in South Africa.

    News travels. How do I know? I was there shortly after one of these incidents. What did I do? Asked questions, got comments and answers. Wrote letters, received an explanation full of double talk, false assurance and BS – compared notes with other lion behavioral experts, signed petitions to shut these places down and make sure no guest of mine supports the first phase (none of my guests are hunters except with cameras), and still it continues. Trace back who owns the “breeding” and “canned hunting” farms and who own the tourist attractions of walking with the lion and the supposed rescue and release centers. Interesting in many cases. Draw your own conclusions

    PLEASE SIGN PETITIONS—born-to-be-killed—lion-hunting-in-south-africa.html

    2Like · · Share

  • Sean Armstrong

    One of the methods often proposed to save endangered species is to breed the threatened animals like these lions in captivity, then release their offspring back into the wild at a later stage. It seems simple enough. Of course, in nature things are never quite that simple. And recent research has found that breeding wild animals in captivity actually has consequences at a genetic level that make them less likely to be able to survive in the wild.
    This walking with lions only adds more problems regarding human imprinting on wildlife, it will not work no matter how many ‘stages’ Alert plan!

    Lions can’t be saved singly, you have to protect their constant environment, which includes protecting all forms of their prey from dwindling, stop all forms of poaching activities, then prevent their home ranges from being invaded by human population explosion.
    It’s about protecting their environment!

  • dtan123

    Thank you to everyone involved in this post, it is always interesting to read everyones different opinions/views on such a important yet understated issue.
    Yet throughout all of these discussions i have yet to come across a suggestion or advice on where to make a positive or advised volunteer project, something i am very interested in doing. I was looking into the ‘african impact’ sites, in particular AP, yet after research i dont believe this is the sort of project i wish to be involved in. In this community, what suggestions or advice can people offer in relation to animal conservation in africa?
    Please reply asap as it is very hard to find info online that isnt ‘financed’ or suggested by this one group of organizations.
    Thank you and i look forward to replies

    • animalcompassionate

      For what it’s worth African Impact is owned by Andrew Connolly who owns Antelope Park and Lion Encounter.

      I did one of their AI other programs at an animal shelter in Capetown and I loved it. I just don’t know how much of our volunteer fee actually went to the program like it is supposed to. My personal feeling is that not all of African Impact programs are scams and that some of them are doing good but it’s a slippery slope. They over charge that’s for sure!

      If you want more advice on these kinds of programs there is a facebook group called where programs are discussed openly and honestly.

  • Mwana

    I agree with your view Peter, thanks for sharing.

  • Nicola

    If this report is fact then I am shocked, I watched the TV series and thought this organisation was doing something good for the conservation of African lions. I was thinking of volunteering there but will be thinking twice now. Thanks for sharing Peter.

  • Marita van Rooyen

    Finally, someone who has the guts to expose the truth behind these ‘walk with lions’ tourist traps! I’ve also been to the Lion Encounter at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and was shocked by how the truth is swept beneath the rug and how the whole thing is sugarcoated to further entice ignorant tourists to spend money. As a journalist (and guest of the ZTA), I was expected to write an article on my experience and found it really hard to expose the truth (and publish it), without stepping on any toes. As a result, I just mentioned the project, but till this day I feel guilty for not exposing the truth. Thank you for doing so Peter! You set a prime example of the importance of delving deeper.

  • animalcompassionate

    Peter, thank you for bringing this to light. As a former volunteer at AP I was enchanted with the idea that I could be part of lion conservation and also be up close to lions. Obviously, now I know that AP is not real conservation.
    There are many concerns I have with the practices at AP but the one that bothers me the most is that I helped ensure the lions I walked with will never be free. That eats away at me. The lions I worked with spent almost two years walking the bush and learning to be proper lions only to be rewarded by being stuck in an overcrowded cage for the rest of their lives. Most of the lions I worked with are male and since there has only been one male that has moved to stage 2 (Milo) the chance of the ones I worked with being released is slim to none. We all fall in love with the lions we work with and to see this happening to them is heartbreaking.
    It is cruel to have given these lions freedom for so long only to have it snatched away. If they had been captive lions their whole lives that would be one thing but you can’t dangle a carrot in front of them for two years then snatch it away.
    As a previous volunteer posted, whenever you ask about the truth with lions that have died or question the program in any way you are chastised and told you are putting the program in jeopardy by saying anything negative. Seriously??? I spent over $6,000 to go on that trip to AP, (they charge over $1,000 a week for the pleasure of working for free for them) not to mention the fact that I truly care about the lions I worked with and they have the audacity to scold me for questioning unnatural deaths of young lions!
    With all that being said I do not regret my time at AP since I learned an awful lot about lions and their behavior. It set me on a course where I am now, an advocate for them. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Would I advise anyone else to do it? No.
    I wish when I was doing my research on AP that there was this kind of information out there. If so I would have chosen another form of ecotourism that I was certain helps conservation not set it back.
    One last comment I have is about the elephants there. Those elephants have to give rides to tourists and volunteers. They also do a skit called “elephant training” where they show how the els can kick a soccer ball and do tricks. If you know anything about how elephants are trained to do these kinds of tricks you would be horrified. These animals deserve better than this.
    Bottom line – Antelope Park is all about making money it is not about the welfare of the animals.

  • Lise Hanssen

    Congratulation Peter on this piece. It is high time that this issue was exposed for exactly what it is – exploiting wildlife in the name of conservation. Would it be possible to tackle these operations one by one? Tourists and paying volunteers need to wake up. They too are being exploited.

  • Adele Sinisterra

    This is commercial tourism at its worst. Any type of contact or support of breeding centers or “conservation” projects where lions are held captive and allowed contact with humans is most certainly like signing a death warrant for those lions. Canned lion hunting and lion bone trading are part of this chain. Public awareness for tourists and volunteers is essential. Thank-you so much for this article

  • Brian Kemp

    I do not agree with “walking with lions”

  • missyblue

    After reading Peter’s post, I am embarrassed to say that I did walking with lions. I was gullible enough to believe that this organization was helping the lions. We were told the lions would be released into the wild.

  • Rhiannon

    This is ridiculous. Have you got a better idea on how to successfully rehabilitate lions into the wild? The tourism aspect is vital to the funding of the project as otherwise the fantastic people that run it could not afford to do so. Walking with lions is a way to expose them to their natural environment. As cubs they are allowed to hunt and the handlers and volunteers make up the elder members of their pride. They are shown respect and the organisers are very much against canned hunting and bone trade. They care solely for the lions and their conservation. Recently wild cubs have been born in the release site but as of yet they are too young to release into the wild. The project takes time and is still in its early stages. The work these people do is dedicated, well thought out and seems to be heading in the right direction. Please check your facts before writing rubbish!

  • Vol

    I am a local who used to work at Antelope Park (as staff, not as a volunteer) and have to agree that unfortunately it is a huge con. It makes me sad to admit that. They have had volunteers in large numbers on site since 2005 (and at Vic Falls shortly after and Livingstone from c.2010). Given the costs involved to volunteer (c.£2000 for a month) there have quite literally been millions spent on this project and for what? For each volunteer’s fee a tiny amount is given to the non-profit charity (ALERT). The rest goes to funding the private enterprises of the African Encounter group which has expanded all over Africa and is now worth millions. African Impact etc was funded initially mainly by the fees from volunteers on the lion project. Have a look at the website now and see how huge it has become. Andrew Conolly and his family have amassed huge personal wealth whilst the lion project it was built on has stagnated and gone backwards. They are no closer to releasing a lion into the wild than they were 5 years ago. The lions in Stage 2 live in a very small release site with no game – I understand the lions in Zambia have had not had game in the release site for a long while and are basically given cows to eat. There are nearly a hundred lions at Antelope PArk now kept in squalid conditions and with no chance of ever being released. These were all mostly lions that volunteers have paid to walk with over the years on the promise they they would eventually be released – yeah right!

    David Youldon who heads ALERT – again this is the very small non-profit part of the company – is a well intentioned guy who is as passionate about conservation as anyone. Unfortunately for him he is a nobody within the wider African Encounter company and has zero power. He is left to deal with all the comments on these sites and others when in reality he can do nothing to change what is happening. The real power lies with the guys behind the scenes who have made a fortune from the whole thing.
    Likewise the people who work at the projects are either locals (lowly paid and work incredibly hard but don’t know the full picture) or young ex-university staff, mainly from the UK who are idealistic and motivated but terribly naive and not fully aware of what’s going on.

    The sad thing is that if all the volunteer money over the years that has been spent on this project had been invested back into it, or into another worthy cause, they could have made a real difference. But it hasn’t and instead it has given lion conservation a bad name.

    And the biggest joke is that Andrew Conolly who set up the whole thing and has profited most from it has recently been nominated for some large prize as a leader in animal conservation! As someone who has worked in conservation in African for their whole life and met hundreds of people working tirelessly in the field to help our continent’s wildlife – I find that deeply unsetting. No wild animal has yet to benefit in any way from this project or his efforts. Truly very sad.

  • Potential volunteer

    Im also keen to do volunteer work with lions over in South Africa but am appalled at what I have read in my recent researching in just one evening! Can anyone suggest a good program to work with? I looked into Lion Park and I think they might be just as bad as AP?? If anyone can clear that up it would be great 🙂

  • Katrina Waters

    I took part in the Walking with the Lions in Victoria Falls and while it was an amazing experience, I was left with an uneasy feeling. One of the females was sick and the men were hitting the older male with sticks trying to get it to stay when all it wanted to do was roam. I wish I had followed my gut and turned back and waited until the tour was over. I wish I hadn’t participated. I really hope a REAL conservation is set up soon.

  • Ken Watkins

    ALERT is the most corrupt “charity” operating in Africa. I have along with others attacked their operation for many years, it will have no effect as long as there are stupid tourists who believe their complete and utter bullshit. Those who support them should visit Antelope Park, a concentration camp for Lions if ever I saw one, an utter DISGRACE!

  • Nikki De Villiers Gray

    Does anyone know what happens to the adult lions and tigers in the “Safari Park” in Mauritius?

  • Atiyya Karodia

    Great article Peter, I think it’s so crucial that the South African Tourism industry identifies and shuts down these operations and also, that more awareness is brought to the organisations that disguise their true motives as Conservation.

    The real issue here is that even if there is controversy around the park and it’s methods, many tour groups will still visit because it is less of a schlep and would result in more talkability. How can this part of the problem be fixed?

  • Nina

    I was a volunteer here TWICE and I must say I love the program and all that they are doing. They only have around 40+ lions considering they just had two new litters of cubs within the last couple of months and they DO indeed have a vet. They are 100% on the up and up and are SERIOUS about conservation. The program was not the issue for me however they have an employee that made the experience for me HELL. His name is Lovewell Sitali and he is there senior Lion Handler. He uses his job to meet foreign volunteers and scams them out of money and forces himself on them sexually without protection. I truly love Lion Encounter and the good work they are doing but I could never be apart of this program again nor recommend any women visit here while they still allow this predator to prey on their volunteers. We give a lot of money to come and have an experience NOT to in turn be victimized by the staff.

  • Alan Short

    Reading the discussion here, I think one thing that needs to be raised is that conservation is a multi-billion dollar industry in Africa. By that I mean all forms of public and private activities that have apparent conservation-based aims and objectives. The issue raised in this article is not unique to one organisation or to one species. I’ve come across other high-profile conservation projects or NGOs that were largely smoke and mirrors with great websites and reports and documentaries but suspiciously little in the way of genuine outputs. Some of those organisations are also based around the paying volunteer concept, like ALERT. The paying volunteers are basically just tourists and this is an obvious and cynical means to take the hard currency of naive and well-meaning young enthusiasts with little to show for it. Other projects that I’ve seen have also been widely publicized and had documentaries blasted over world TV, but again have little actual results to show compared to similar projects with similar budgets.

    I’m not sure what needs to be done. Maybe some independent organisation could start auditing all these NGO and private conservation projects and produce public scorecards, the way that various organisations vet the environmental and social aspects of big corporations’ annual reports.

    A decent audit by hardened pros should be able to see beyond the propoganda to the long-term results of such projects. Like S&P ratings, it could be something that dramatically raises or lowers the stock of these projects based on results. I don’t know where the funding for such an agency would come from (yet more money required) but obvious starting points are existing international conservation bodies like IUCN and WWF.

  • Biosphere Expeditions

    It is a sad fact that charlatans and unscrupulous profit-driven companies abound these days, giving volunteering, voluntourism and genuine citizen science a bad name. ALERT just seems to be another sad case in point. Have a look at our Top Ten Tips on how to avoid such charlatans

  • Ken Watkins

    This one comes up again and again ALERT are a disgrace, yet continue to fool tourists and volunteers (slave labour) . I visited the concentration camp at Antelope Park, just to see, it is an absolute disgrace!

  • Shelley

    Hi Peter,

    I’m a former volunteer with ALERT, and since reading your article believe me when I say that I have felt sick with guilt at the possibility I may have indirectly contributed to a canned hunting scheme and harmed the conservation cause that I care very much about. I brought your article to the attention of ALERT themselves, who have commented on it, refuted your claims and provided the transparency you were requesting.

    I urge you to investigate the data they have provided and comment with your findings. If you find your assumptions have been wrong I hope you will issue an apology, but I am regardless very grateful for your journalism in bringing these questions to the public eye. Whether I have been had or this is all a mistake, it is more important to me to know the truth.

  • Margrit Harris

    Thanks for this great article Peter. Glad to hear that the lions in captivity are not counted in the overall number of lions. Strange though, when it comes to Gemsbok, Sable, even Rhino that doesn’t seem to be the case… or am I wrong? If it were so then the game farmers raising animals for hunting wouldn’t have a leg to stand on… or would they?

  • themuse

    I am glad to see this getting more coverage. However, this is a much bigger problem that encompasses more than lions and tigers. There are plenty of places that punt the same bs with regards to cheetah and other animals. Please look into some of the ‘rehabilitation’ centres in South Africa. You will see very quickly that the money made from this type of activity (walking with wildlife) does not actually go into conservation, but into the pockets of the owners. I know firsthand – I worked for one. There was no vet, not a single specialist on site, no proper feeding routine, etc. The cats were kept in abysmal conditions, and guests were told (falsely) that the cats were going to be released. I was even told to train one of the cats. Who trains a cat that is supposed to be released back into the wild? It goes against everything that rehabilitation is! The cats were continually put in dangerous situations for both the cat and the guests (think being paraded around in dark, enclosed dining rooms with only one door out). Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to chat about it. I would be happy to share my experiences.

  • Ben

    I’ve just visited the Antelope Park earlier this month (Feb. 2015) and had a chance to chat with the general manager, who told me that they had released 9 lions into the Stage 2, but none to the Stage 4. Sad fact that older or injuried lions got sold to the “canned lodge” and killed by the paid “hunters” as a sport. We didn’t do the Walk with Lion, but most memebers in our group did…………………..

    • Schroederville


  • damwansa

    as a local this rubbish why can’t you write also about lions in snow in your zoo’s .Also elephants they suffer cause you climb on there backs.cheetahs are been walked in belts like dogs yet you dont write anything about it livingstone there is also mukuin big five they walk lions and no one knows where there lions go after walks yet you attack lion encounter.i visited them and these guys are far better than many projects in south africa and zambia.your research is rubbish

  • Panda

    I’m very sad to read this news. I volunteered at the Livingstone location for a few days in 2011, and I specifically chose the program because I did my homework and thought it was a genuine conservation program. I did not personally witness any poor treatment of the animals, and I had a positive experience. I truly hope that they can turn this project around and achieve conservation goals. I appreciate the element of being able to interact with the cubs, but not if that means they are later poorly cared for or sold into canned hunts. I hope those allegations are wrong.

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  • Julie Lasne

    Hi Peter,
    As I am asking also many questions about their programs, would it be possible to see the figures you are mentionning in your article:”In fact figures provided to Africa Geographic by ALERT show a large build up of baby lions (where the money is made), a significant death rate in the middle stages and no successful final stage releases to date. “; Thank you very much in advance and mainly for this quite relevant people for lions fate. Julie

Jacis Lodges
Africa Geographic