How low will we go to comply with the absurd requests of some tourists?
Lions are bred for hunting. Centres along tourist routes claim to be rehabilitating a variety of wild animals who are then kept in enclosures and available for petting and so-called ‘encounters’. We are ‘rescuing’ orphaned elephants and training them to carry humans on their backs. We are breeding lions just so that people can ‘walk’ with them. Have you ever wondered how it is that those animals are docile enough to allow this to happen? Do you see something wrong with this picture? Wild animal encounters are not natural!
Wild animals belong in the wild!
I feel quite sick because last week I experienced the elephant ride mentioned above as well as the walk with lions. I didn’t want to but I felt I had to experience it in order to understand it, and I also wanted an opportunity to find out more from the handlers and staff involved.
We were told the elephants were orphaned and trained using the reward system, as opposed to the brutal cruelty in Thailand, but I find this hard to believe. Reward? What reward? Food and water? Does this mean food was withheld until they submitted? That’s cruel and it’s surely not sufficient to break an elephant; there must be more to it. It’s said that most elephants that carry humans are broken with cruelty but I can’t find any documentation for those who are trained in any other way.
It felt wrong to ride on the back of this lovely creature, to be forcing her to walk at our pace, albeit with little prodding and the handlers were gentle. These are adolescents – normally playful and, like all teens, wanting to do their own thing, discover their world. But it was when the elephants were made to play football at the end, and to salute us, that it was driven home how unnatural this is.
There are laws making it illegal for elephants to be removed from the wild for purposes such as this but it’s not enough – riding elephants should be banned.
My back was very sore the next day and I think I deserved that.
The lion respects the stick.
If the elephant ride made me guilty, nothing prepared me for the way I felt after something called a ‘walk with lions’ – I wanted to cry.
These animals are bred especially for this purpose and the highly-scripted spiel of the staff is only for the gullible – no-one else can possibly believe this drivel. We are told that if not for this ‘protection’ they would end up in a circus or be hunted. As if this exploitation is much better. The bottom line is their natural lives have been destroyed. The breeders are breeding because the demand is there in the first place.
We were given a big stick to carry with the explanation that “the lion respects the stick”. So, clearly, they have learnt what that stick can do. I felt sick and wanted to pull out but I persevered.
The walk consists of series of contrived posing sessions. The lions, a male and a female, know exactly where to stand, lie or sit, and visitors are told where to stand to get the best photo of themselves with the lions as backdrop. This is repeated several times. On this day, there were 5 visitors and 5 handlers. No-one is armed, unless you count the sticks.
This walk with lions is advertised as being a ‘natural experience’. How natural is it to feed chicken to lions? Yes, pieces of chicken! How natural is it that these animals were born in captivity, removed from their mothers before their eyes opened, and will be ‘retired’ as soon as they start showing signs of aggression (anything from 3 to 6 years) because by then they will have outlived their usefulness for man to make money?
I was struck by two ironies: the drive to reach the lion place involves driving through the poorest part of a small town. Have people no shame at all? The cost of this false activity for one person would feed a poor family for a week, or more.
The second irony was when I realised that the visitors were completely unaware of the rare fynbos flowers on the path – the only really natural aspect of the afternoon!
Tourists ask for these activities, tour operators and agencies throughout the world ask us to provide them. Most intelligent people who think about it know it is unnatural and just plain wrong, but we carry on doing it. Why?? If everyone refused to do it, to book it, to accompany the tourists, the demand would disappear. We have wonderful safaris where animals live naturally and free if people want to see wild animals so why do we need these cruel and immoral money-making schemes?
Can we please be the country that refuses to abuse animals for profit?
*The places where I did these activities are not named because they are not alone in offering these so-called animal encounters so I feel it would not be fair to name only them.