Shirley Shearer, Director of Outdoor Expo, kindly donated an exhibit stand to CACH for the Show. Meanwhile, someone found out that the Lion Park was also an exhibitor - and would be bringing 5 lion cubs to display at the show.
This information was posted - not by us - to social media, and Shirley began to receive emails of complaint. These included one from the NSPCA that read:
We are completely opposed to this type of exploitation of wild animals for human entertainment. Unfortunately however it is legal and allowed by our national and provincial government.
We will be contacting the event organisers to ask them to refuse to use live animals as entertainment props.
The Lion Park weighed in to the debate with a lengthy email from Shandor, claiming that Lion Park is anti-hunting, that it is a member of PAAZAB the zoo association which it says is ethical and has strict criteria, and that the petted cubs were all orphans. To which we responded as follows:
I refer to your email below which was forwarded to me. May I draw your attention to the the following:
1. You say Lion Park is anti-hunting.
This is a puzzling statement from a lion breeder. Lion breeding is a commercial operation aimed at making money. That is why you breed.
Now why would you keep ‘surplus’ or ageing lions for years to live in lion retirement utopia when lions are so expensive to keep?
We believe that the Lion Park has sold lions in the past. Because of the numbers of cubs that you are breeding for cub petting purposes, we are curious as to where they end up. You say that you are not involved in the canned hunting business. So where are all these lions? They do not live at the Lion Park. We enquire if you would be prepared to open your records to us to prove that none of the lions you have sold have been hunted.
2. You say Lion Park is a member of PAAZAB and that PAAZAB is ethical, anti-hunting and has strict criteria.
South African Zoos, which are all members of PAAZAB, have a long and inglorious history of dealings with the canned lion hunting industry.
The sale of ‘surplus’ or ‘aged’ lions by zoos to the lion breeders for either hunting or for breeding for hunting has been routine for many years.
About a decade ago, I personally drove from the Kalahari to Bloemfontein to try to stop Bloemfontein Zoo from selling ‘surplus’ lions to lion breeders. By public auction, for Heaven’s sake! Where are these strict criteria? I hired lawyers to make an application to the High Court to stop the auction. My case was thrown out by the High Court, and the auction of lions went ahead. Guess who bought them? Right – the lion breeders who supply the canned hunting industry.
Johannesburg Zoo, another PAAZAB member, was leasing and selling lions to captive lion breeders. For example, the Zoo traded lions with notorious canned lion breeder Marius Prinsloo for years. This cosy relationship between a leading PAAZAB member and a leading canned lion breeder ended in acrimony and litigation when Prinsloo refused to return the lion Zeus at the end of the lease.
PAAZAB might well intend to be ethical. But let us not confuse the intention with the reality.
3. Your lion cubs for petting are all orphaned etc.
Since speed-bred lion cubs are routinely removed from their mother shortly after birth, it is misleading to say that they are all ‘orphaned’. All of those captive bred lion cubs are routinely ‘orphaned’ – but not by their mothers.
Breeding large numbers of cubs as you do will inevitably lead to large numbers of surplus adult lions in time. The Lion Park has been breeding vigorously for many years. Where are all these hundreds of lions? They are not at the Lion Park? So where are they? You must have sold them. You say you do not sell your lions to be hunted. Prove it.
So let us settle this issue once and for all.
Are you prepared to show us your records going back when the Lion Park started, showing what lions were sold to whom and when.
If as you say, you have nothing to hide, you should have no objections to giving us this information.
Chris Mercer and Bev Pervan
Campaign Against Canned Hunting, Sec 21 NGO
Finally, Shirley asked us for advice on how to defuse the situation, and we responded thus:
Thanks for forwarding these complaints about Lion Park’s cubs at your Outdoor Expo.
Bev and I have talked about what we can do to be constructive in this situation. We understand that you want to avoid any unpleasantness at your show.
The success of the Global March for Lions has raised awareness of the fate of lion cubs in SA like never before. Live animal displays are coming under pressure internationally, including animals performing in circuses.
The presence of lion cubs at your Outdoor Expo might not have been an issue before. But times have changed. Now that these emails have started to come in to you, you can assume that, social media being what it is, the ‘cat is out of the bag’ (sorry) and there may well be some kind of protest if those cubs are on display. There were 3000 people at the Jo'burg March for lions in March, and we expect about 10,000 in the forthcoming October march.
Think about those lion cubs for a moment. We know that you do not believe, any more than we do, that a busy Expo is an appropriate environment for lion cubs. You may even find that you get blamed, or receive bad publicity, for permitting Lion Park to exploit lion cubs like this.
Our suggestion to you would be to take control of the situation now, and ask the Lion Park not to exhibit lion cubs at your Show.
Chris and Bev.
A couple of days later, Shirley replied to advise that Lion Park would still attend the Show, but would not be bringing any cubs.