UPDATE: All wildlife interactions stopped by tourism heavyweights

All wildlife interactions, including walking-with-lions and cheetahs petting, at Protea Hotel by Marriott Polokwane Ranch Resort has been stopped completely following an earlier article highlighting the property’s involvement in the industry.

Protea Hotels by Marriott director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue Danny Bryer stated that “Protea Hotels by Marriott together with the resort can confirm that that lion walks are no longer being offered to guests and that no guests interact with cheetahs at the conservancy.”

Protea Hotels had previously stated that the wildlife interactions would be halted, however, later research revealed that these activities were being continued via a neighbouring business on the hotel’s shared conservancy. The hotel now confirms that all involvement with wildlife interactions has been stopped.

“In view of recent reports around interactions with wildlife at one of our hotels, we have undertaken a full review and audit of our hotels,” Bryer says. “We have learned more and have become aware of additional measures we need to take to address this situation. We are currently in the process of ensuring that these are fully implemented and followed at all our hotels.”

Thompson’s Holidays, the travel agent responsible for sending the newsletter marketing the controversial activities at the Protea Hotel, also distanced themselves from the hotel by removing the property from their portfolio entirely.
Cullinan Holdings Ltd, parent company of both Thompson’s Africa and Thompson’s Holidays, also confirmed that the group cannot be associated with any exploitative practices. According to media manager John Ridler, “both Thompsons Holidays and Thompsons Africa support sustainable tourism and strict ethical principles”.

Following the group’s recommitment, the Blood Lions Campaign reaffirmed Thompsons Africa’s status as an endorsed company for the Born to Live Wild Pledge, saying it holds the highest ethical standards in the industry.
Thompson Holiday also confirmed that they will be working with the Blood Lions campaign to educate employees from all sectors, “exposing them to the reality of wildlife interactions”. This is according to Joanne Adolphe, Thompson Holidays CEO, who says the group especially wants to reach out to the younger employees in order to establish a new generation of responsible tourism ambassadors.

Blood Lions confirmed that they will be donating 200 copies of their award-winning feature documentary to be distributed among the Thompson’s Holidays employees.

According to Blood Lions Campaign co-leader Ian Michler, Thompson’s Holidays response following the offensive promotion will hopefully serve as an example to the wider tourism industry.
There are close links between the wildlife interaction business and the canned predator and lion bone industry where about 200 facilities holding approximately 6 000 – 8 000 lions and other big cats in cages and captivity in South Africa.

It’s a stain on SA’s reputation that’s not going unnoticed by responsible travellers. According to one US traveller and big cat advocate Sheryl Schroeder, “canned hunting is South Africa’s shame”.

Schroeder had cancelled a booking made at Protea Hotel The Ranch following news of their involvement in wildlife interactions saying “I cannot let a dime of my money go to any company, store, hotel or individual who supports captive-bred wildlife and human interaction for profit.” She says she believes the onus is on SA’s tourism industry authorities – travel agencies, hotels, schools, student travel abroad groups and volunteer groups – to advocate change.
South African Tourism has also stepped up their game in addressing the issue to prospective tourists in SA, recently publishing a comprehensive explanation of the ‘educational conservation experience’ on their site.

For more, visit Conservation Action Trust.