We have been overwhelmed with the response to the 60 Minutes expose of the Lion Park near Johannesburg. Almost all positive, but one email from a former volunteer at Lion Park needs to be addressed. It is too long and rambling to copy in here, but the gist of it will be clear from my response below:
Thanks for your lengthy email about the Lion Park and your comments on the expose of its links to canned lion hunting by CBS News 60 Minutes.
As a former volunteer to the Lion Park, it is not surprising that you have strong views on the issue, and that are friendly with Rodney Fuhr, the owner of Lion Park.
You blame the presenter, Clarissa Ward, for an interview, which, you state: “only lasts 3 minutes, we don't have the whole interview and it's not hard to see that Rodney was nervous, and that the journalist forced him to tell what she wanted.”
Actually, Fuhr was not at all nervous to start with. On the contrary, he was arrogant and boastful – until she confronted him with the truth, and reeled off a list of canned lion operators to whom he had sold many lions.
Even then, he did not become nervous – he became angry and started to bluster, because he realised that 60 Minutes had done its home work, and that he was caught in the web of his own lies.
What you are saying is that Fuhr was treated unfairly by 60 Minutes.
You are being grossly unfair to the 60 Minutes team. I have worked with the media for fifteen years in my efforts to ban canned lion hunting, and have not come across a more professional and conscientious team than 60 Minutes. They approached me more than a year ago to get some background for the issue and I have worked closely with producer Randall Joyce for more than a year.
I can assure you that he and his team worked tirelessly to get at the truth. They even employed a local investigative journalist to make perfectly sure that they got the story right.
They flew me up to Johannesburg not once, but twice, for interviews – again, to make quite sure that our facts were correct.
And it was only because 60 Minutes had done its homework so thoroughly that Clarissa was in possession of the proof that Lion Park had sold many lions to canned hunting operators; which proof she used so effectively when interviewing Fuhr.
The brevity of the interview with Fulhr was caused by editing constraints, not, as you imply, by mala fides. The whole story had to be squeezed in to 15 minutes. In fact, the editors were more than generous to Fuhr, leaving out his damning outburst at Clarissa when he realised that the game was up: ‘Well if making money is a crime, then condemn me…”
Save your sympathy for a more worthy cause than Mr Fuhr.
You say you were free to look around the office at Lion Park, and imply that this proves Fuhr’s bona fides. The naivete of most volunteers continues to surprise me; so few of them calculate the cub numbers and then ask themselves “where have all the lions gone?”
You yourself have calculated that something like 400 lions must have passed through Lion Park, yet you cannot bring yourself to answer the obvious question: “Where have all the lions gone?”
To their lion farm called “The Kingdom?” Yes, and where to from there? Clearly the “Kingdom” has been used to hold “surplus” lions until they could be sold for canned hunting.
Finally you complain that it has taken us all so long to expose the Lion Park for what it is, that this delay somehow makes our motives questionable.
Again, the opposite is true. It has taken us years to expose the Lion Park because we needed to get the proof before we could do so. 60 Minutes have been wanting to come out and shoot the story for a long time, but decided to hold back until they were sure that they had all the facts.
The truth is that you are in denial; that you were duped in to volunteering at Lion Park believing, wrongly, you were “helping conservation” or “helping lions in need of care at a Sanctuary.”
Instead, your money was feeding one of the cruellest industries in the world, the South African canned lion industry.
Now logically, you should be angry with Lion Park for deceiving you. Logically, you should be angry with your volunteer placement firm for sending you to a lion farm when you wanted to go to a sanctuary.
Instead, you twist the facts to suit your pre-conception – making fatuous allegations like poor Rodney was ‘nervous’, that he was ‘forced to say what Clarissa wanted him to say.’
The truth is that the Lion Park is only one of many lion farms in SA that breed lions for the canned hunting industry, and that cub petting and volunteering are a very profitable spin-off for captive lion breeders. And they all lie to conceal the fate of the cubs. They know that volunteers and tourists would never visit lion breeding facilities if they were told upfront that the cubs that were petted today were destined to be sold for canned hunting.
I have answered your complaints at some length, and posted this response to our website and social media, because I hope that volunteers to South Africa, and tourists who visit cub petting facilities, as well as tour operators and travel agents who book clients in to cub petting facilities in SA, will be better educated.
Then they can look around at all the adorable cubs, calculate how many hundreds of lions have passed through this facility over the years, and ask themselves the question that cries out for an answer:
“Where have all the lions gone? Long time passing. When will they ever learn?”
Now watch and see how Lion Park gets in to a huddle with its lawyers and crafts another slick public relations press release to fool the unwary.