Lion cub ‘petting’ - and why it is wrong

So you want to ‘pet’ a lion cub - and post your picture on social media? Many people have done this before they realised they have made a big mistake! Cub 'petting' may appear harmless’ - but please, take a minute to think it through - Why is the cub at the ‘petting area’ and not with its mother? Is it still being fed milk? if you ask - expect to be told the cub is an orphan and being hand raised to ‘save it’ - That almost certainly won’t be true - Lion breeders remove cubs from their Mum’s at less than an hour old. Mum is probably someone else on the breeder's farm being mated for the next litter of cubs to sustain the business. 

Many people stumble into the dark and murky world of lion breeding through a love of animals! It’s not easy to pick your way through the lies and myths that the lion breeders use to ‘cover-up’ their immoral business.

So if you are visiting South Africa here is our guide the Lion breeders 'myths' 

Lions used for petting and walking activities are rescue animals.

NOT TRUE - There may be a few injured lions that could not be returned to the wild, but the vast majority of these animals have come from one of the 160 plus breeding facilities in South Africa. They collectively have an estimated 6,000-8,000 captive-bred big cats. Around 7,000 are lions, whilst the remainder are cheetah, leopard and even tigers who don’t even live on the African continent!

The hand-reared cubs are orphaned.

NOT TRUE - Most lion cubs born on these breeding farms are removed from their mother by the staff, often within an hour of their birth. Removing the cubs from a healthy mother and bottle feeding them, habituate’s the cubs, - making them completely dependent upon the breeder, but also encourages the females to breed again more quickly. A captive lioness can, therefore, produce two to three litters per year, whereas in the wild she would only have one litter every two to three years.

The hand-rearing is often done by the paying visitors or so-called volunteers, who come from all over the world but have to pay the breeder for their ‘volunteering’ time at the centre. They do this because they believe they are helping the lions and supporting lion conservation through reintroduction programmes - but sadly, this isn't true.

The big cats used for petting and walking are domesticated.

NOT TRUE - These lions and other wild cats are not domesticated. The process of domestication involves selecting specific characteristics you want in an animal and breeding with individuals that display these features. This process can take many generations and even involves genetic changes over time. Think about how domestic cats and dogs are bred for specific purposes or features.

Captive big cats are habituated or dependent on humans through hand-rearing. Further conditioning of the animals takes place through the hands-on activities at the breeding centre, like cub petting and walking both of which further habituate the cubs but raise more money for the breeders.

Hands-on big cat encounters support conservation and these animals are ultimately reintroduced into the wild.

NOT TRUE - Once the habituated Cubs mature they become too big and dangerous to have at the breeding centre. They are now sold to licensed dealers who operate the canned hunts. 

In South Africa, two to three lions are killed in canned hunts - every day. Add to that the hundreds that are euthanised every year so their bones and other body parts can be sold for use in the Traditional Asian medicine markets and you start to understand the this is an industry. They're ‘farming’ lions and other big cats!

Many conservationists believe that captive-bred lions have little or no conservation value. Due to habituation, they could not survive if released back into the wild. Luke Hunter, head of big cat conservation organisation - Panthera, goes further stating “captive lion reintroduction programmes in South Africa operate under a “conservation myth”.

Hands-on activities are needed to generate income for the upkeep of the captive animals.

NOT TRUE - Breeding and petting farms are clearly commercial operations that generate profits from the sale of the animals. There is no need to exploit the cubs or the paying volunteers and visitors from ‘petting’ or ‘walking’ activities.

There are some real sanctuaries in South Africa, such as the Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary, operated by Four Paws or Born Free Foundation, who operate two reserves in the Shamwari Reserve. Both of these charities prove that you can run a sanctuary based on strict - no breeding and no touching policies. Real sanctuaries provide forever homes to captive-bred animals that cannot be released into the wild.

The use of so-called ambassador species is OK.

NOT TRUE - Ambassador species - is another ‘myth’ spun by the breeding industry. Hands-on interaction with big cats of any species is wrong. They will become habituated and can never return to the wild. Petting cubs is unethical. Petting a cub is condemning it to be captive for life. 

Wildlife is unable to ask for help. Save Me Trust works to give wildlife a voice. The captive breeding and petting of any wild animal is wrong. As we have seen above their ‘reasons’ are easily dismissed with a little thought and understanding. 

We are reminded of some advice from our Mother's - You look with your eyes - not your hands - Lion cubs are not yours or ours to touch or to condemn to a captive life - before they are killed in cold blood - to be displayed as trophies of someone’s hunting prowess. This abhorrent trade needs an immediate worldwide ban that is effectively administered by all countries.