GROWING numbers of tour-ism operators, including Tourvest and Thompsons, are throwing their weight behind a Born to Live Wild campaign that discourages tourists from visiting facilities where direct engagement with captive predators is permitted.

The campaign is an offshoot of the Blood Lions documentary which premiered at the 2015 Durban International Film Festival, before hitting the worldwide big-screen cir-cuit. The documentary has also featured on Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and MSNBC in 185 countries.

The documentary blew the lid on how vague legislation in South Africa had allowed the practice of “canned lion hunt-ing” to morph into a murky, multimillion-rand industry also involving “cub petting” and “walking with lions”.

National Geographic rated the documentary as one of the 12 most powerful stories bring-ing awareness to conservation, poaching and wildlife traffick-ing over the past decade.

The worldwide campaign against lions being bred for the bullet has now reached more than 11 million people with a weekly Facebook audience of 60000, said Blood Lions mar-keting manager Lauren van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk said a Blood Lions delegation would attend the next Cites CoP17 Confer-ence to be held in Joburg in September. A youth awareness drive will also see Blood Lions screened at more schools and universities countrywide

Its offshoot, Born to Live Wild, has been endorsed by more than 85 tourism oper-ators and partners in southern Africa and abroad.

Through this campaign, tourism operators pledge not to support enterprises that con-tribute “to the cycle of breeding, exploitation and senseless killing of predators”.

“Our message is clear” said Van Niekerk. “Breeding ani-mals to be killed for fun or to be abused in tourism has no place in a progressive and responsible society.”

Van Niekerk welcomed this week’s statement from the Pro-fessional Hunters Association of South Africa (Phasa) on rogue lion breeders tarnishing South Africa’s wildlife image.

Phasa was responding to recent publicity surrounding the malnourished state of the lions at a captive-breeding facility owned by Walter Slip-pers in Alldays, Limpopo, that serves a large area of private game and hunting farms.

“At a time when the rest of the industry is doing its best to promote ethical hunting, along comes Mr Slippers with his starving lions and threatens to undermine it all,” said Phasa chief executive Tharia Unwin.