Tourists have been urged to shun South Africa's lion cub petting industry by actress and wildlife advocate Pearl Thusi in collaboration with Humane Society International/Africa (HSI).
According to HSI, these facilities 'breed lions in captivity, often under harsh conditions, exploit their cubs for photo opportunities, and then sell them for canned hunts to be shot by trophy hunters, or for Asia's lion-bone trade'.
The country - a popular tourist destination that welcomed approximately 10.3 million foreign tourists in 2017 - is home to a number of lion cub-petting and lion walk tourist attractions. Campaigners say well-meaning travelers can easily be hoodwinked into financing the captive-breeding lion industry.
World Lion Day
In a bid to educate travelers about the dark side of the industry, Pearl Thusi who appeared in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Quantico, has teamed up with HSI/Africa to launch the Snuggle Scam awareness-raising campaign today - on World Lion Day.
As part of the campaign, HSI and Pearl Thusi are urging travelers, travel guides, and tour operators to fight lion exploitation by refusing to participate in or promote human-lion interactions, such as bottle-feeding or cub-petting, walking with lions, or canned trophy hunting.
Bred in captivity
According to HSI, breeders at tourist attractions that feature human-lion interaction often claim that the lions are orphaned and will be released back into the wild, when in reality they are usually 'bred in captivity removed from their mother, and have no ability to survive in their natural habitat'.
Although lion cubs in the wild remain with their mothers for 18 months, and females rest for at least 15-24 months between litters, cubs on breeding farms are taken from their mothers when they are a few days or even hours old to be used as living photo props, and females are forced to breed relentlessly.
"Fake 'orphan' cubs are exploited for unsuspecting visitors, and volunteers from all over the world pay thousands of dollars to hand-raise them,"adds the organization. "Once cubs are no longer cute and cuddly, they are used for lion walking experiences. Once they are too dangerous for that activity, some are sold for canned hunts, in which they are shot by trophy hunters in fenced areas from which they cannot escape. Others are killed for the bone trade - either for display or for use in bogus medicinal tonics in Asia."
Thusi said: "I'm so humbled and proud to be a part of the HSI family. It's been my life's dream to make a change for wild animals and be part of the system that loves, appreciates and protects them. I pledge to do my best to learn, grow and fight for the rights of Africa's wild lion and all animals that need the same assistance.
"Now that I know the truth behind the captive lion breeding industry and the sad exploitation of these lions from birth to death, I am horrified that this is how we treat the king of the jungle. We should promote Africa as an authentic, wild and rewarding tourism destination and not support this industry. I know that together we can all make a difference and improve things for wildlife and humanity.”
Audrey Delsink, Acting Executive Director and Wildlife Director of HSI/Africa, added: "Most people come to South Africa because they love lions and other wild animals. They would be shocked to learn that the cute lion cubs they pose with for selfies will one day be killed for profit.
"We are thrilled to work with Pearl to raise awareness of the 'Snuggle Scam,' to urge people to stay away from these facilities, and instead to see these magnificent animals in the wild where they belong."