The New Lion Park near Johannesburg
This post has caused a storm of abuse on social media. We should have explained it was part of our policy of engagement with all role players in order to create an inclusive Captive Lion Forum to press government for change. We repost our reply to an abusive comment below:
Your comments fundamentally misunderstand what CACH is trying to achieve and the practicalities of doing so in South Africa.
CACH is not simply a protest group. As you know, we are seeking change in South Africa: the end of captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting.
History shows us that effective and sustainable change rarely results from confrontation and/or public pressure alone. This is especially so in the context of dealing with South Africa’s government and its wealthy hunting industry. If change does happen here, it will be through a complex interaction of public pressure, commercial pressure and political and/or regulatory change.
That means our strategy necessarily involves a number of strands and approaches.
These include engaging with, and on occasions working with, a range of stakeholders with different views from our own if in our judgement that will help achieve our overall objective. We accept that on occasions this may lead to criticism (and social media abuse!), but the bottom line is our focus has to be on maximising effectiveness rather than maximising popularity.
We believe that the Captive Lion Forum that we are setting up to effect regulatory change in SA will become the leading voice here because it includes all stakeholders, including regulators, lion experts, lion farmers and cub petting facilities, various relevant govt depts, conservationists and a number of powerful animal welfare orgs. We think that our strategies will best deliver our objectives in South Africa. We are the ones on the ground and have been doing this longer than almost anyone.
Internationally, we continue of course to raise public awareness on the unacceptability of cub-petting and lion encounters (and indeed our Lion Park blog makes this clear) and to engage with the tourist industry on these issues.
We also continue to engage directly and indirectly with the SA government. Last month we sent our Tourism Minister an extensive report highlighting the damage to Brand South Africa caused by lion breeding and canned hunting (happy to send you a copy). We then contacted the 40 or so UK members of the IUCN urging them to vote for the IUCN 2016 Conference motion 009 calling on the SA government to stop breeding & hunting lions – and we heard today this motion has been passed.
So if you think your donation to CACH has been misspent, we will gladly refund you.
The old and the new are like chalk and cheese. The old Lion Park near Lanseria was a run-down private zoo. The new Lion Park is a world class facility which is more a zoo park.
The lions no longer hang around by gates in utter boredom. They have natural big camps where they can hide from the vehicles if they so choose. There are no self-drives anymore due to the safety concerns.
The property is enormous and very picturesque, with a rich cultural history. Management are busy reintroducing species that were endemic there hundreds of years ago.
There are genuine research projects on the go. Not the bogus lion ones we know so well, but important ones. Two, for instance, are on Leguaans and Black Backed Jackals. They are also involved with Vulpro and the vultures.
There is a community outreach programme which is removing snares from the surrounding areas (a very big problem due to bush meat trade) and turning them into snare art.
The new facility has come under attack in social media for resuming cub petting after a short period of refraining from offering lion cub petting.
Prior to all the controversy on social media about the reintroduction of cub petting at the Lion Park, CACH was invited to meet with them to discuss the difficulties they were facing and to find common ground on a way forward.
On Saturday 20th August, Joburg director Linda Park, accompanied by Moji, went to the new Lion Park and spent the whole day there. She writes:
We were met by an executive team of four and sat down over coffee to discuss the situation. Let me state here that this team are the "new guard". None of them were around when the rot that founded the Lion Park empire was going on. Owner Rodney Fuhr, under whose management the old Lion Park in Lanseria was discredited in the CBS 60 Minutes piece, is apparently retiring.
They explained why they had reluctantly had to reintroduce cub petting. When they opened their new world class facility recently, the plan was to offer an ethical lion experience with no cub petting. Indeed, most of their male lions have been vasectomised.
However, they soon discovered that the public demand for cub petting was so overwhelming, that tour companies stopped coming to them because they no longer offered cub petting. Instead, tour companies took their business elsewhere to other places that do.
The new Lion Park has spent more than R100 million to set up exceptional facilities, and now has a massive mortgage bond to service. The implications of a drastically reduced cash flow meant that they would have been in serious financial trouble before the end of the year. So, as a temporary measure, they were forced to change their plans, and reintroduce cub petting on a limited scale.
We were told that they are wanting to help bring about an end to captive breeding and cub petting but cannot do so alone, or they would suffer a disastrous loss of business. It is not practical for one facility near Joburg to take the responsibility of abandoning cub petting; all that achieves is to drive away business to less ethical competitors. So what has become clear is that a level playing field can only be achieved by government intervention in the form of a blanket ban on lion breeding and cub petting.
Our suggestion was that they convene a meeting with the various political parties and that together we put pressure on them to get captive breeding outlawed. They committed to setting this up as soon as possible.
CACH had not changed its position on the cub petting. The CACH position on this is, and always has been, that no cub petting is acceptable and we will never deviate from that. But, for the greater good of all lions in captivity, we need to give credit where it is due and to work with the new Lion Park to see if, together, we can bring an end to lion farming and its profitable spin-off, cub petting.
We have been promised total commitment and transparency. Should that not happen, then we shall have to reconsider.