Cape Town – The newly appointed CEO for South Africa Tourism, Sisa Ntshona has taken a bold stance against tourism products based on the exploitation of wild animals, saying he will work with sustainable tourism authorities to ‘eradicate’ the industry.

“South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on,” Ntshona said in a recent webinar hosted by Tourism Update.

He also said that conservation authorities’ concerns about cub petting and other wildlife interaction practices are taken extremely seriously and that SA Tourism is in discussion with the “Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme to see how we can work more closely with them to eradicate such practices”.

“Our marketing efforts promote an authentic and credible tourism experience to all our tourists, and this includes an authentic wildlife experience to keep it as “wild” and natural as possible,” Ntshona says.

Many sustainable and conservation-minded authorities have congratulated Ntshona on his bold stance.

The international award-winning Blood Lions documentary team backed him for “his ethical vision”, and offered their “full support to him and the department in getting rid of these horrific practices.

“If South Africa wants to market itself as a destination offering ethical and responsible tourism, there cannot be any place for predator breeding, canned hunting and the use of lions and other species as our ‘play things’,” Blood Lions says on Facebook.

“We call on the entire tourism industry to embrace the stance of SA Tourism and Sisa Ntshona.”

Ntshona’s sentiments and vision for SA Tourism’s affiliation with wildlife interaction programmes is a highlight in the efforts to end petting and the canned lion industry – which undeniably goes hand-in-hand.

The struggle in ending such practices has been a difficult one with many ups and downs. Although there has been great victories, such as various global airlines’ banning the transport of lion trophies, and the US’s ban recent bans on captive-bred lion trophies, such victories came at a great cost of captive lion populations’ lives and their livelihoods.

And still, even following a great push for captive lion hunting and exporting to be stopped at the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held in SA, the practice remains legal.

It is estimated that approximately 1 000 captive-bred, hand-reared lions were killed in the country in 2015, fuelling a multi-million-dollar international industry to boom even more.

Money and the financial gain from such industries remain the big evil. The Joburg Lion Park, for example, reopened their cub-petting practices after initially saying they would stop the programme when they moved to a new location outside Johannesburg.

Alas, Lion Park manager Whin Booyens told Traveller24 that the high demand for cub petting was causing their visitors to rather visit their opposition, where such activities were still offered.

“Unless our competitors also stopped the cub petting, the massive R100m investment in our new world class facility, the survival of our business and the livelihoods of all our staff would be at stake,” Booyens said at the time.

Thus, unless there is an overall ban on cub petting and other canned practices, it is clear that they will continue despite their controversy.

For now, the global trade in the bones, claws and teeth of captive-bred lions in South Africa remain legal, but Blood Lions have made it clear that they will continue their campaign to end the captive bred lion industry and trading of lion products for good.