Written by: Andreas Wilson-Späth for Conservation Action Trust
Travel conference organisers have decided not to screen a documentary that raises critical questions about key tourist attractions that their event promotes.
Local delegates to the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) 2015 asked the hosts to include a screening of the film Blood Lions in their programme. The documentary shows young, conservation-minded volunteers from around the world paying thousands of rands to work at South African facilities that offer tourists the opportunity to pet lion cubs and go for bush walks with juvenile lions.
What most of the volunteers don’t know is that the majority of the lions they help to raise are destined for the bullets of wealthy trophy hunters.
“Wildlife volunteering in Africa is huge. Kids from all over the world want to come here to help animals,” says Blood Lions director, Bruce Young. ”The organisers of the conference are key players in this whole industry and, given its location, timing and content, you would have thought that sharing Blood Lions with delegates would be a valuable exercise. We’re not trying to discourage volunteering, but we do want youngsters who end up at lion breeding facilities to ask themselves some crucial questions: where do all of these cubs come from and where do they end up?”
According to Wendy Morrill, one of the conference organisers, “several discussions were had regarding if and how to share relevant content from the film with WYSTC 2015 delegates. Unfortunately the involved parties were not able to come to terms of mutual agreement”.
“We are, however, running a session on lion programmes and volunteer organisations for registered delegates”. This workshop will be hosted by Dr Jackie Abell of the African Lion Environmental and Research Trust (ALERT), which claims to focus on lion conservation through research, education and responsible development. It promotes operations that allow tourists to walk with lions in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and bases much of its work on the suggestion that captive-bred lions can be successfully re-introduced into the wild.
South African conservationist Ian Michler, who is the central character in Blood Lions, has criticised ALERT for attempting to “legitimise their lion captive-breeding programmes and money-spinning tourist operations … under the banner of conservation, science or education”, while a group of researchers who examined ALERT’s assertions found that “the lion encounter industry relies on animals so habituated to human presence that they can never be released”, that “untrained volunteers are placed in extraordinarily dangerous situations that have resulted in attacks, including fatalities”, and that “captive-origin lions have no role in species restoration”.
One of the sponsors of WYSTC 2015 is African Impact, “a Cape Town based volunteer experience organisation,” which “helped establish” and has a “strong partnership” with ALERT.
Conference delegates have been invited to an unofficial, free screening of Blood Lions on Tuesday, 22 September at 5:30pm at the Cullinan Hotel, across the road from the conference venue.