Written by Stephanie Klarmann
Published on 15 March, 2019

I believe that educating adolescents and youth is fundamental in changing attitudes and behaviours in any conservation effort. Education not only provides knowledge but also creates a sense of empathy and understanding on a much deeper level. It can also promote activism and justice, particularly in young people who are finding their voices and are so willing to act in ways which may often defy social norms (we often think of these young people as being rebellious; but I like to see them as challenging oppressive existing norms). This is becoming especially true of the captive breeding and hunting industry, which has for many years been covered in a cloak of conservation and good will. Yet, emerging evidence continues to expose an industry characterised by greed, neglect and cruelty.

I must be honest, when I first decided to approach this topic with the students I teach, I was hesitant. I felt they were too young to comprehend the inherent cruelty and I wanted to avoid shattering the commonly held beliefs about something seemingly innocent. And yet the opposite occurred. Whilst the Blood Lions® documentary remains an immense shock to watch, the students took it on with maturity, moving almost immediately towards action with questions like “what can be done to stop it? Why is this allowed in the first place? Surely this is illegal?” These were the hardest questions to answer because such cruelty seems so far-fetched to many of us. The hard-hitting visual elements of the Blood Lions® documentary and its ongoing campaigns illustrate something else I strongly believe in – that video and photography is a powerful means of conveying information and emotion in ways that move people towards change and action.

When it comes to what can be done, I encouraged individual actions – we all have a voice and should not feel that alone we do not have an impact. Being educated also allows students to educate others, like their own friends and family. In fact, I have since heard stories of students who have turned down invitations to lion parks and will speak up in class when cub petting is mentioned by fellow classmates. This is one of the most promising signs that we can make progress through education! My experience has been that the impact is  lasting, with the latest conversation occurring a year after watching the documentary. How incredible to know that we can have a long-term impact on attitudes and behaviour!

Teaching students to think critically is also a vital component of educating them about conservation issues. Providing evidence and solid facts is so necessary in a time when false information abounds and can be shared at the click of a button. Such skills ensure that students are able to think about situations from a variety of perspectives: local, international, economical, and ethical. Through open-minded discussions about welfare, ethical travel and conservation, I sincerely hope to encourage students to be curious and willing to learn, and even more so to empower them to be responsible and ethical citizens who choose to use their voices and challenge deeply unethical activities.

I gathered some quotations from students expressing their thoughts about the following quote describing the South African captive breeding and canned hunting industry:

“Every single day captive bred or tame lions continue to be killed in canned hunts and hundreds more slaughtered.”

“When I read this I stop and think why people find pleasure in seeing these beautiful animals go through torture and pain. If people would just stop and think, what happens if they were in that situation, they wouldn’t want to be forced to breed and neither would you. I just find heartache and sadness, I hate the way society has become by torturing these animals for wealth, where they could easily get a job that has much fewer risks and a job that can give love and happiness around the world. Most people don’t even realise that lions and other cats were not meant to be held or petted, they were meant to lie on the savannah grass maybe enjoy a meal or two, not be locked up in a cage and forced to breed their whole life.” (Katie, 12 years old)

“Blood Lions was very interesting and eye-opening. Lion cub petting and breeding is very upsetting and wrong. It makes me very sad to know that there are many people out there who are okay with this. Lion cubs aren’t trophies and shouldn’t be used as a means of attraction at game lodges and animal parks.” (Kaitlyn, 15)

“Blood Lions is a fascinating documentary that sheds truth on the blood money of captive-bred lions. It is unnerving to see the pure greed and entitlement of canned lion hunters.” (Jordyn, 17)

“Before I watched Blood Lions, to me cub petting was not a bad thing, but after watching the documentary my thoughts changed as I realised that it was actually extremely wrong. All my life I have been against hunting and animals being captive. I am shocked to discover what is really going on. The places we once thought were good are most guilty for killing our wildlife.” (Emma, 16)

©Stephanie Klarmann

It is clear that educating students has the power to change attitudes and behaviour as these students demonstrated that they were not proud of our government’s decision to allow the proliferation of captive-bred lions whilst wild populations remain significantly lower. Whilst this was not an easy topic to approach, I am so proud of the maturity and advocacy expressed by all the students who have watched the documentary and engaged in discussions with me.