FAIR TRADE TOURISM STATEMENT ON CAPTIVE WILDLIFE INTERACTION
Fair Trade Tourism believes that visitors to Africa should enjoy authentic African experiences. There is nothing to rival the thrill of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, and this is particularly true of the “Big Five” – elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion – together with cheetah, wild dogs and other predators.
Africa is also home to some exceptional sanctuaries, which home and rehabilitate wildlife species, while raising awareness of the plight of these animals in the wild. Critically, these sanctuaries do not allow public interaction with the animals in their care, nor do they breed these animals intentionally. The majority also contribute to bona fide conservation programmes.
We would like to urge visitors to Africa to avoid sanctuaries, rehabilitation centres or game parks which allow public, paid-for interaction with wild animals. Such interaction is usually a gimmick designed to appeal to tourists who believe that the money they pay to cuddle lion cubs, play with cheetahs or ride elephants is going towards conservation of these species. In most cases this is far from the truth and the animals they believe they are helping are often abused and exploited.
Interaction with lions
Lions present a classic example of what is wrong with human-wildlife interaction. There are an estimated 20,000 lions remaining in the wild across Africa. In South Africa there are about 2,300 wild lions in reserves and parks and some 6,000 lions in captivity, the majority of which have been bred in captivity and a significant number of which have been hand-reared.
Hand-reared lions (and, indeed, any large carnivores) cannot be rehabilitated into the wild as they become human-imprinted. They often start their lives on predator breeding farms which
masquerade as sanctuaries and most of them end their lives in canned hunting operations.
A cub born in these facilities is often removed from its mother after a few days. This ensures that the lioness comes into oestrus and produces more cubs in a process often compared to puppy farming. What begins as a cute cub which tourists pay to play with and volunteers pay to look after, becomes a sub-adult lion which tourists pay to walk with, and often ends up as a mature animal sold as a future hunting trophy or killed for the lion bone trade.
By selling lion cub interactions or “walking with lions” experiences, tour operators are therefore contributing to a conveyor belt of abuse and exploitation. By buying these activities, tourists are doing the same.
Interaction with elephants
Many elephants in the elephant-back safari industry in Southern Africa have been wild caught and removed from their family herds with the specific intention of turning them into tourism elephants. There is evidence to suggest that these elephants continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder throughout their lives.
There is no conservation rationale for keeping wild-caught elephants in captivity, let alone training them to be interacted with and ridden. Tourists and tour operators are inevitably told that these animals have been rescued from “culls” which is largely misleading. Elephant culling was banned in South Africa in 1995 and reintroduced as a last resort in the management of elephants in 2008. Since then, there have been no legally permitted culls.
We would encourage tour operators and tourists alike to refrain from supporting this industry in favour of offering experiences with wild elephants in their natural habitat.
Should tourists wish to visit bona-fide sanctuaries and reserves which have a demonstrable commitment to conserving wildlife, Fair Trade Tourism is happy to recommend its certified clients. In the meantime, please support us and don’t indulge in cub-cuddling, walking with lions or elephant-back safaris.
Remember that your choices can help end unethical wildlife practices.
For more information, please contact Fair Trade Tourism:
+27 (0)12 342 2945