The park has defended the temporary reintroduction of cub petting at its new premises, stating that the survival of their business was dependent on this activity.

One year after the Lion and Safari Park banned cub-petting, the park is once again allowing people to interact with cubs in a bid to pay off the R100-million investment in its new facility, but this move has come with backlash from animal rights groups.

In July, the park relocated from Lanseria to The Cradle of Humankind.

On Tuesday, the Lion and Safari Park confirmed in a written statement that although the cub interaction had been stopped, it caused a dramatic drop in the number of visitors, who instead just went to other places where cub interaction was still possible, reports the Fourways Review.

CEO of the park, Rodney Fuhr said, “We are not competing on a level playing field, and unless our competitors also stop the cub interaction, the massive R100-million investment in the new facility and the survival of our business will be at stake.”

He said they had “no choice” but to reintroduce cub interaction.

Part of the statement posted by the park’s management on the Lion & Safari Park Facebook page, states that they informed some animal rights groups of their decision to reintroduce the cub interactions.

Meanwhile, nonprofit organisation, Blood Lions, which aims to “bring an end to canned hunting and the exploitative breeding of lions and other predators on farms across South Africa”, has condemned the Lion Park for going back on their word and further condemned those who visited the park to interact with the cubs.

In an interview with eNCA, NSPCA spokesperson Isabel Wentzel, is quoted as saying that by reintroducing cub interaction at the park, the Lion Park demonstrated that they were “only worried about the money and not the well-being of the animals”.

In the interview, she further encouraged citizens to ask questions and find out why touching animals was necessary, stating “if there was some sort of educational reason behind contact with the animals, then it would be a different story. There are definitely other ways to incorporate this attraction with a means that would not put the tourist or the animals in danger”.

However, the CEO of the park did not rule out eradicating the activity of interacting with cubs. “… We are willing to join with, and help, other organisations and the government to ban cub petting altogether. We will give our full support to this cause and help to lobby the authorities to introduce legislation as soon as possible,” said Fuhr.

Many social media users expressed their support for the Blood Lions speaking out against the cub interaction at the park.