Serial world record breaker, André van Zijl of Knysna, is determined that neither the elements nor isolation would rattle his cage as he takes on his 49th record – this time to raise awareness around the animal petting industry.

Van Zijl stepped into a 5m by 4.5m cage at Monkeyland outside Plettenberg Bay on Tuesday, August 11 – his home for the next two weeks.

“He entered a pre-release cage in the Monkeyland primate forest at noon and will spend 14 days in the enclosure. By living as a caged primate, André, along with the the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) team hope to place focus on the plight of captive wild animals, especially those used in the pet-play-and-pay industry.

“We are confident that this will also bring much needed focus to the horrific canned hunting and lion bone industry [which is now being used as an alternative to tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine],” said SAASA spokesman Lara Mostert.

By the end of his first day in the cage Van Zijl said the biggest challenge would be the weather. “That is the only and biggest challenge. Other than that it is all a mindset and staying positive to get me through it,” Van Zijl said.

Van Zijl will only exit the cage at 12:00 on August 25, just in time for the viewing of the now famous Blood Lions documentary at the White House in Plettenberg Bay on August 28.

The documentary uncovers the realities of lion breeding for canned hunting in South Africa and highlights the negative impact it has on the captive lions and other predators.

Mostert said initiatives like Van Zijl’s were necessary as, despite South Africa’s abundant wildlife, there was a disturbing number of facilities offering tourists the opportunity to get “hands-on” with wild animals.

“One can pet lion, tiger and serval cubs, and walk with adult lions and cheetahs. You can take a ride on the back of an elephant or even an ostrich, feed monkeys and lemurs or drape a large and dangerous snake around your neck. The list appears to get longer each year with more wild animals being added to the list of those you can cuddle.”

She added that the harsh reality behind these encounters was that the animals had been raised and conditioned in captivity, and generally from a very early age.

“Conditioning can take on many forms and generally will involve an element of physical and psychological cruelty.”
She added that many of the establishments offering animal encounters would often do so under the guise of conservation. “It is extraordinarily difficult to release any animal or bird back into the wild and once they have been imprinted by humans it is virtually impossible.

There can only be one reason to offer these attractions and quite simply it is to make money. The industry is controlled by greed and greed is acting like a disease which threatens to become an epidemic and the threat to our wildlife is becoming irreversible.”

Van Zijl is definitely no stranger to challenges like this. In 1969 he set his first world record by roller-skating 1 000 miles in 19 days from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The reason behind the attempt was simply to prove that he could.

Since then Van Zijl has been on a roll and subsequently set 47 more world records, many of which were to highlight issues around animal welfare and other worthy causes.

Some of his records have been a bit ‘off beat’, including one where he sang for more than 28 hours, drank 211 cups of coffee in only four hours, played chess non-stop for 150 hours, pumped petrol for 1 000 hours, sat in a bubble bath for 10 days and more recently spent five days in a shark diving cage to shed light on illegal pitbull fighting.

While Van Zijl goes after his 49th record, the SAASA team also decided to go after their own and attempt to gather the largest collection of recycling and donations over the same period. Mostert said they would be hiring big containers for residents to deposit their recycling as well as donations such as clothes you are no longer wearing (or anything you no longer need) to canned food and other non-perishables