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Africa Geographic Travel


A group of beaming smiles encircle an impossibly adorable lion cub. They rub its belly and paddle away a flurry of playful swipes while cameras go into overdrive capturing the event. Everything about the combination of cute animals and besotted humans appeals to our moral instincts.


But in the case of captive wildlife our moral intuitions are sometimes rotten to the core.

It is a sad fact of life that many actions causing great harm are motivated by well intentioned individuals either ignorant or armed with defective information. Subsidising institutions that hold animals in captivity appears to be an exquisite example of this kind of immorality. Early this week I felt a metaphorical punch in the guts as I realised my own complicity in the exploitation of Africa’s wildlife.

The pride of ignorance

Last Sunday the Brumbies squad paid a visit to a lion park twenty minutes outside of Bloemfontein. The cat enclosures were small (though no smaller than most zoos) and people moved about inside the pens with the cubs and adolescent lions. The level of supervision and management of the interaction between the lions and the visitors appeared woefully unprofessional. But there is a far more sinister side to lion parks than poor facilities and unqualified staff.

As tourists pour into South Africa in search of an safari experience, lions have been commodified in appalling numbers. So much so that South Africa now has a major overbreeding problem. To combat overpopulation and maximise profits many lions born into captivity are eventually killed by the grotesque practise of canned hunting.

Lions that have never known freedom are released into fenced-off bush-veldt where rich people execute them for pleasure – thus marking the nadir of our failure to protect the wild nature of wildlife.

As a former hunter in South Africa I understand that hunting is indeed an important cog in the conservation of African wildlife. But killing tame lions to make rich South Africans wealthier is ethically unsupportable.

The film Blackfish brought worldwide attention to the plight of captive orcas in SeaWorld theme parks. African cats and indeed all wild animals in captivity desperately need similar attention. Zoos and animal theme parks are born out of the nonsensical idea that animals which lack human intelligence exist for our amusement.

As images and videos of Brumbies players (myself included) began circulating on social media it dawned on me that by attending the lion park we had hitched ourselves to the profiteers of animal cruelty.

This brings my attention to the responsibility that accompanies athletes with an online presence. Being able to connect with a global audience via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is a relatively recent phenomenon. This connectivity has given us unprecedented capacity to spread ideas and bring attention to important issues.

But this is not how athletes tend to utilise social media. Instead ‘followers’ are subjected to endless pictures of products, promotions and commentary that is all too often best described as drivel.

Is this the best we can do with the privilege of a platform?

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Africa Geographic Travel
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