Firstly I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the family of Katherine Chappell who was killed by a lioness while driving in Camp 2 of the park. While blame is being apportioned to her because she had her window down, we should be considering the following facts:-
1. She was in the company of a tour guide who should have known better.
2. The Lion Park promotes petting and walking with wildlife. The impression is therefore given that these animals are no longer wild, but tame. There are pictures up of Alex Larenty petting adult lions so an unsuspecting tourist could be forgiven for thinking that the adult lions are also tame.
3. Lions in captive breeding facilities endure stress and boredom and, as a result, often exhibit behaviour that would not be seen in the wild. Youngsters in the camps have been damaging vehicles, trying to open doors and generally behaving like delinquents. Their food is delivered in a vehicle, therefore every vehicle could present an opportunity for a meal. A few years ago I sent a mail to the then manager at the Lion Park, Earl Smith, raising my concerns that they were sitting on a powder keg and that an accident was going to happen. The mail was ignored and this is the third incident there in four months. What else will it take before drastic changes are made?
The bottom line is that lions do not belong in captivity and they should not be exploited for human pleasure and gain. By allowing tourists to pet and walk with wildlife, we are sending out the wrong message. We are in effect saying that our wildlife is not wild anymore. One only needs to access the internet to see how many incidents there are, many of them fatal. We are ignoring the signs and putting ourselves in grave danger every time we interact with a wild animal.
The lions in Camp 2 are locked in their night quarters at the moment. The lioness in question has been placed in solitary confinement before a supposed move to the Hartebeespoort property. More stress and more boredom for all of them. Did they do anything wrong? No. They have been subjected to human interaction from a few days of age. They have been used as a means to make money with no consideration for their wildness. It is time the Lion Park took full responsibility for the situation. Please don’t hide behind “we have signs up to keep your windows closed” yet allow visitors to treat lions as if they are tame pets.
If playing with cubs and driving through camps of bored lions is all we can offer as “Gauteng’s No. 1 Tourist Destination” we have a problem. The writing is well and truly on the wall.