Cape Town – Animal interaction is on a slippery slope to the end, digging its own hole as more and more people and companies are being made aware of the cruelty lurking in the industry’s very core.

Outspoken conservationist groups like Blood Lions have called out the disconnects bluntly, stating and proving that petting or interacting with lion cub leads directly to a canned lion killing later on.

As true as this is for lions in captivity, it is for all other wild animals.

Most recently, ostrich farmers and tourist farm operators in Oudtshoorn have stopped ostrich back rides acknowledging the “global tendency to keep and exhibit animals and birds in their natural environment as much as possible”.

Two farms, Cango ostrich farm and Safari ostrich farm, confirmed that ostrich rides and human-animal interactions will no longer be allowed on the properties. One ostrich farm, however, will still allow the interactions.

According to Renate Samoilhan, marketing manager Cango ostrich farm, the feedback from the public and tourism industry has been positive. “It is an ethical, positive and necessary step for the tourism industry,” she says.

Wild animal interactions continuing in SA… but for how long?

While the ostrich industry in SA is stepping up for conservation, many other wild animal interaction operators are continuing with the practice, citing financial gain as the main reason why.

The Lion Park in Johannesburg, after promising to end lion cub petting back in 2016, continued the practice.

A statement on why they shied away from the idea said, “We had every intention running the new park without cub petting and we tried to replace this with other activities. Unfortunately, this led to a dramatic and unexpected drop in the number of visitors and tour operators.”

South Africa’s elephant-back ride operators are equally stubborn to end the interactions. This despite the fact that our neighbouring countries like Botswana and Zambia have banned the practice altogether.

But conservationists and a changing public opinion is slowly but surely tightening the leash around wild animal interaction operators’ necks.

New criteria spells end of interactions

New policies outlined by Fair Trade Tourism (FTT), with specific regard to the highly-confusing (and sometimes damaging) volunteer tourism industry, are also helping to identify companies operating under the veil of conservation.

Fair Trade Tourism says since the organisation’s initial review of its standard to include additional criteria on volunteering in 2009 there has been a significant upsurge in both the supply and demand for volunteer products in Africa, many focused on so-called conservation or orphanage programmes.

This upsurge has brought with it concerns from various organisations regarding malpractices, which were especially evident in programmes dealing with vulnerable children and captive wildlife.

The Fair Trade criteria does not allow for any physical interaction by tourists or volunteers with a range of captive animals, including all large and medium-sized carnivores, big cats, elephants, rhinos, large apes, hippos, ostrich, crocodiles and venomous snakes. They also do not allow for tourists or volunteers to interact with any child or vulnerable person unless this takes place under continuous, qualified adult supervision.