Cape Town – The saying goes “it gets worse before it gets better”, and we’re hoping it’s the case with wild animal interactions in SA.
So far, 2017 has not been a good year for the caged animal industry – with more and more cases of attacks on humans and handlers surfacing – each a nail in the wild animal interaction coffin we hope to lay to rest soon.
But, as conservationists are hoping to bury the interaction industry for good, they’re also holding their breath in the hopes that no fatal incidents occur in the meantime – again.
Because let’s be honest… what are SA’s powers that be waiting for before they put a legal end to wildlife interactions in SA? Another ‘kill’, perhaps?
The gruesome death of American tourist Catherine Chappell in 2015 is still a fresh reminder of the true nature of wild animals – and a warning of how these recent wildlife ‘incidents’ could have ended. And the incidents keep occurring, shrinking the margin of error every time.
The bloody timeline
In the latest incident, an 11-year-old boy was airlifted to hospital after he was mauled by a lion in Laphelale, Limpopo.
Two weeks before this, two people were attacked by one cheetah from Emdoneni Lodge in KZN two days in a row.
At the time, one of the victims, an exchange student from Macau in China, Peggy Lio, told Traveller24 that she was “very concerned about that would happen in future”.
Before this, in February this year, a woman was mauled by a lion through a fence at a game park in eastern Zimbabwe. Local papers reported that the women suffered “serious injuries to her right hip and arm when she was attacked by a caged white lion while leaning on the fence”.
In January, a Mpumalanga man died days after being mauled by a lion. Although health authorities later confirmed that the man died due to “other diseases” and not wounds from the lion attack, but the incident still highlighted the dangers of caging wild animals.
Days before, on a wildlife farm outside Paarl, the death of a loved and respected guide at Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm made headline news in the Western Cape.
Following the guide’s death, the crocodile farm temporarily suspended croc pond tours, but these have since been reopened to the public as the interactions and feeding shows continue.
he incidents listed here are just some of the shocking wildlife interaction scares which hit headline news since the start of the year, with many other cases going under the radar.
This is not normal
You can throw your hands in the air and say ‘this is Africa’… but this is not true. In places where the wild animals are respected for what they are – wild – such ‘incidents’ do not occur nearly as much as they do in captive scenarios.
In the Kruger National Park, for example, one of the most sought-after global destinations for spotting wildlife in their natural habitat, incidents involving attacks on humans have been minimal – especially if you consider the amount of visitors and wild animals in the park daily.
Globally too, most incidents where humans and/or animals are harmed due to their interaction can be seen in caged environments – whether it be orcas in captivity, or the shooting of a zoo gorilla due to human ignorance…
It is, therefore, both stupefying and outright irresponsible to let wildlife interaction continue knowing what the risks are for both the humans and animals involved.
Stain on SA’s reputation
More that this, incidents where wild animals in captivity attack paying human interactors is a massive stain on SA as an international wildlife destination.
According to internationally-acclaimed activist group Blood Lions, speaking to Traveller24 on why images promoting cub petting had to be removed from OR Tambo International Airport, “South Africa needs to start reclaiming its reputation as a promoter of ethical wildlife tourism.”
SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona has also spoken out about his plans to ‘eradicate’ wildlife petting and other interactions in SA, which marks a leap in the right direction.
But considering the increasing number of incidents in which both SA’s wildlife, her tourists and her reputation are harmed – literally and figuratively – the fear is that the end of wildlife interactions in SA is not happening fast enough.