Youth For Lions Blog: Volunteering: How to support true wildlife conservationists instead of money grabbing profiteers

Written by Youth Ambassador, Oliver Riley-Smith and published with permission
© Oliver Riley-Smith

With the globe growing ever smaller through social media and modern transport, volunteering is growing ever larger. Young people around the world are becoming more passionate to travel and volunteer across the globe but unfortunately many unethical organisations are capitalising on this. Dodging the complex minefield that surrounds ethical and unethical wildlife volunteering can be a real challenge.

A common and very accessible form of experiencing wildlife conservation is through short-term voluntourism trips that require advanced payment so you can support a charity organisation of your choice, often with little or no training. Many international travel and volunteering agencies promote these kinds of short voluntourism trips abroad, often no longer than a few days to a couple of weeks, where individuals have the chance to work alongside wildlife (often at quite a high cost). Such trips are a great and entertaining introduction to environmental volunteering and are seen across the globe. However, it is important to remember that there are many wildlife organisations offering voluntourism experiences who claim to be ethical facilities, but whose passions and goals lie elsewhere.

Let’s take South Africa as an example. Many unethical captive predator facilities in South Africa that claim to be big cat sanctuaries are often nothing more than commercial ventures profiting from the animals in their care. These facilities often provide voluntourism experiences with the promise of helping lion conservation by bottle feeding and hand rearing so-called “orphaned” lion cubs (and other big cat species). The harsh reality is that the orphaning of the cubs is most of the time at the hands of the facility itself. In almost every instance these sorts of commercial facilities involve big cats kept in sub par conditions with uncertain futures and the potential for further suffering, and in some cases, death as a result of “canned” or captive trophy hunting and/or the sale of their bones for the international wildlife trade.

© Oliver Riley-Smith

Sadly, many voluntourism agencies have been known to support these unethical institutions with false claims that draw in the less experienced. Much of the volunteer work advertised by these unethical organisations involves working very closely with wildlife, often hand feeding or directly handling wild animals and birds that should be allowed to live as natural a life as possible. Interacting with captive wildlife that cannot be successfully rehabilitated, whether you are a volunteer or paying tourist, is unacceptable and in many cases dangerous.

It is important to note that there are ethical wildlife organisations that offer voluntourism opportunities to paying volunteers who want to support genuine conservation efforts, both physically and financially. The additional funds raised from these volunteers are vitally important for the day-to-day running of these organisations and cover the costs of, for example animal care (in the case of true sanctuaries) or essential tracking equipment (in the case of wild conservation projects). There are also institutions that may provide hands-on work with select species that are suitable for rehabilitation and release. Individual animals whose captive rehabilitation is necessary due to incidents such as poaching or human intervention can be rehabilitated by volunteers under the guidance of experienced veterinary and/or management staff.

Having seen the aftermath of a rhino poaching incident myself, it is clear why some species such as orphaned rhinos need constant company in the beginning to provide solace and help them deal with their immense trauma. Bird chicks, often orphaned by hunting, or equines such as zebras are also species that volunteers can safely work alongside and help to rehabilitate. These species are not known to become habituated through controlled human contact and their releases are mostly viable. On the other hand, at many big cat facilities that profiteer from the animals, the cubs people interact with were generally taken from their mothers at a very young age so they can be handled by paying tourists and volunteers. Big cats are never suitable for interaction with humans, which is just one of the many reasons why they can never be rehabilitated or released into the wild [Learn more here: Myth Busting]. It is key to understand the species you may be working with and the organisation you wish to support to avoid getting into a situation where your own safety or the animal’s welfare is put at risk.

All forms of ethical voluntourism provide an amazing experience for the volunteer, while supporting the organisation in whichever way they need. For example, short-stay voluntourism trips can focus on providing the best experience possible for the volunteer due to the shortness of their stay, with the key benefit for the organisation being the financial support which they can invest in their conservation work. Longer term volunteering is often more focused on providing additional people-power and the best services for the organisation with the key benefit being the tasks volunteers perform on the ground. This also involves a more realistic delve into wildlife conservation where you can experience the spectacular as well as the more dull activities that turn the cogs of conservation.

With the growing appeal of voluntourism to many across the globe, ensuring you are supporting those whose goal is to aid wildlife ethically and responsibly is becoming ever more problematic. Voluntourism experiences are fantastic opportunities to pursue shorter environmental adventures while also financially supporting the institutions you are visiting. It is important to bear in mind that the activities you are likely to pursue on such ventures involve the more glamorous side of conservation, with your time on the excursion being diverted from more gruelling tasks. If you do locate an ethical facility that you wish to support through volunteering, your visit, whether short or long, will no doubt be supporting the fight for nature.

If you are a prospective volunteer, and you choose to book through an agency offering such experiences, always confirm the venues you are visiting far in advance of your trip to ensure that you are not being shipped off to an unethical facility without your knowledge. The only way to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are supporting an unethical facility is through researching the agency, the facility and the area in which you want to volunteer. Use trusted sources such as Working Abroad, Wildlife ACT and Volunteers in Africa Beware, and ask questions to uncover the welfare and ethical standards of the organisation at which you wish to volunteer. Investigating the itinerary, cost and location of the volunteering project can provide valuable insight into its legitimacy. It should be your prime concern to ask all the necessary questions and avoid such commercial, profit-driven institutions whose priority falls away from wildlife conservation and animal welfare. Keep in mind that a true sanctuary focuses on the welfare and well-being of the wildlife in their care and are often registered non-profit organisations.

© Oliver Riley-Smith

I have had the opportunity to volunteer both at home in the UK and abroad in Namibia and South Africa. In South Africa, I joined Project Rhino where I volunteered to support the delivery of hundreds of meals to communities in Zululand (KwaZulu-Natal province) to help young children through the struggles that the COVID-19 lockdown presented. By supporting communities that surround nature reserves, it dissuades them from resorting to poaching for subsistence (i.e. bushmeat) or money (i.e. rhino poaching for profit). Alongside Grant Fowlds and Kingsley Holgate I was mentored on the numerous components that make up true conservation in South Africa. I was taken through the bush of the Eastern Cape province creating bush trails on mountainsides, tracking black rhino, and learning about black rhino expansion projects. Previously Project Rhino also gave me the opportunity to attend the World Youth Wildlife Summit in the Kruger National Park, where I volunteered as a group leader to facilitate the environmental education of 250 youth from around the globe.

Both these experiences had the essential keystones of ethical volunteering in common: it directly benefited Project Rhino and their initiatives in a responsible manner. Although the experience was incredibly enlightening and entertaining for me as a volunteer, it did require hard work and a realistic mindset, and was aimed at primarily benefiting the organisation and surrounding communities.

One thing is for certain: Volunteering organisations with only profit at their core, are of no benefit to wildlife or their conservation.

I hope this article may help you make a true positive difference for lions and nature while avoiding those that wish otherwise.

© Oliver Riley-Smith

Youth For Lions Blog: A visit to the zoo or a captive wildlife facility – education or edutainment?

Written by Youth Ambassador, Stephanie Emmy Klarmann and published with permission
© Stephanie Emmy

There are some heated debates about the value of captive wildlife facilities and zoos. Many are firmly situated in the belief that animals in small enclosures and cages do not educate visitors or serve an important conservation purpose. There are others, however, who argue that seeing animals in captivity educates visitors and encourages them to care. I personally can’t help but wonder what the public is learning when they witness an animal standing against a fence or sleeping in an unnaturally small space. Even more importantly, does this type of education result in pro-conservation behaviour?

I want you to consider for a moment the last time you may have viewed an animal in a cage or enclosure. What was the animal doing? What was it eating? Was the animal alone or in a natural social group? How much space was provided for them to roam? Did the enclosure provide any enrichment for the animal? The reality in many captive facilities is that the animals were likely to be pacing or lying down. They may be fed a diet comprising unnatural supplements to mimic the nutrients they would normally receive in the wild. Their natural social groupings have been artificially created, while some may be entirely alone.

With the latest scientific findings in the IPBES report (2019), we know with certainty that we need to protect biodiversity now more than ever. Education is therefore an important start to understanding how and why conservation of the natural world and its wildlife is so vital. However, we need to question the real value of a captive facility or zoo, where the animals remain in cages and enclosures much smaller than their natural habitats. We also need to question if these facilities live up to their promise of educating visitors about the importance of wildlife and conservation.

In South Africa, several zoos have faced serious welfare criticisms. Two years ago, the Johannesburg Zoo faced an outcry for keeping a lone elephant despite knowing that elephants depend heavily on herd structures in the wild (HSI, 2019). The Pretoria Zoo has been similarly criticized for its treatment towards a lone elephant despite calls to have him relocated to a suitable sanctuary (The Daily Maverick, 2021). In both cases, rather than acting on the animals’ welfare and wellbeing, decisions revolved around keeping more elephants in small enclosures, unlike the vast plains they would naturally roam, to attract paying visitors. The Bloemfontein Zoo was eventually closed due to a serious lack of funds resulting in animals living in substandard conditions with little food or veterinary care (The Citizen, 2020).

If zoos and captive facilities were truly educational and based on the premise of conservation, why do they present such severe welfare concerns?

There is a growing industry in South Africa where indigenous and exotic big cats are kept in captivity with many predator parks also claiming to have educational and conservation value. Conservationists agree that captive big cats do not contribute meaningfully to conservation. Afterall, they simply can’t. Releasing habituated big cats into the wild could potentially cause human-wildlife conflict, are unlikely to be able to hunt successfully, and often their genetics have been compromised by inbreeding. At best, these captive-bred cats are destined for a life in captivity, while many others will end up in the bone trade and/or canned hunting industries.

© Blood Lions

If captive facilities and zoos were genuinely educational, we could reasonably assume that all visitors would be motivated to protect wildlife. Do visitors who learn something new feel motivated to change their behaviour to actively protect wildlife and biodiversity? Many facilities operate on the premise that it fosters a connection that inspires protection despite lacking evidence to support such claims (Spooner, et al., 2021). Wilson and Phillips (2021) acknowledge that captive facilities do claim to pursue education, research, and conservation as important objectives; however, entertainment for paying visitors is also a significant objective. Interactive practices, like cub petting or ambassador animal interactions, are driven by tourist demands for recreational activities alone (Moorhouse, D’Cruze, & MacDonald, 2016), and thus do not contribute to conservation, education, or the animal’s welfare interests.

In fact, research by Whitehouse-Ted, et al. (2021) demonstrated that interactions with ambassador animals were associated with the lowest knowledge-change scores in visitors compared to those who attended guided tours without interaction. Marc Bekoff (2014, 2015), a renowned Professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, is critical of the educational claims made by captive facilities. The evidence is sorely lacking that these types of facilities have a lasting impact on their visitors, particularly in terms of changing their behaviour to be environmentally friendly and pro-conservation.

Aside from the quick gratification of seeing a beautiful big cat in person, what purpose do these facilities really serve? Since there is a lack of evidence to prove the educational and conservation value of animal interactions, the continued justification for engaging in these activities is problematic and unconvincing (Spooner, et al., 2021). Empirical research is required to better understand the ethics and impact on animal welfare and to evaluate the educational outcomes of such facilities and activities. Rather, imagine the thrill of witnessing a lion walking through the open veld of a national park or observing cubs playing with siblings whilst learning to hunt. There is simply no substitute that can be justified.

I believe strongly that we need to practice more compassion in our choices and become more conscious of our decisions regarding captive wildlife. Are we acting in ways that serve our own interests or the interests of the animals?

Reference List:

Bekoff, M. (2014, March 11). Do zoos really teach visitors anything? (Op-Ed). Live Science.

Bekoff, M. (2015). It’s not happening at the zoo: there’s no evidence zoos educate in a meaningful way. HuffPost.

Citizen Reporter. (2020, March 25). SPCA helps to relocate animals after Bloemfontein Zoo closes down. The Citizen.

Humane Society International. (2019, June 14). Animal protection organisations furious as Johannesburg Zoo ignores pleas to #FreeLammie, introduces two new elephants to her captivity instead.

IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.

Moorhouse, T., D’Cruze, N.C., & MacDonald, D.W. (2016). unethical use of wildlife in tourism: what’s the problem, who is responsible, and what can be done? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 25(4), 505-516. doi:

Pinnock, D. (2021, February 6). No shade, no company, no exercise – that’s no life for sad elephant Charlie. Daily Maverick.

Spooner, S.L., Farnworth, M.J., Ward, S.J., & Whitehouse-Ted, K.M. (2021). Conservation education: are zoo animals effective ambassadors and is there any cost to their welfare? Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2, 41-65. doi:

Whitehouse-Ted, K.M., Lozano-Martinez, J., Reeves, J., Page, M., Martin, J.H., & Prozesky, H.  (2021). Assessing the visitor and animal outcomes of a zoo encounter and guided tour program with ambassador cheetahs. Anthrozoos, 1-16. doi:

Wilson, A. & Phillips, C.J.C. (2021). Identification and evaluation of African lion (Panthera leo) cub welfare in wildlife-interaction tourism. Animals, 11(9), 2748. doi:

More Information:

Youth For Lions Blog: Lions Classified as Farm Animals. Why You Should Care

Written by Cath Jakins
Published on 28 October, 2019

Humans have been domesticating and farming animals for decades, millennia even.

However, people all around the world are becoming so much more aware of the ethical and welfare-related issues involved in captive breeding and animal husbandry. Recently, there has been “a move globally to say ‘ok, intensive farming may not be the way to go, people want free range animals’. And yet, on the wildlife side, we are reverting back to intensive breeding under the worst conditions,” says Karen Trendler, Wildlife Trade & Trafficking Portfolio Director at the NSPCA. According to Trendler, “conservation of wildlife is best done by preserving wild animals in their natural habitat.”

In South Africa, the Animal Improvement Act (AIA) was passed in 1998 to allow for the “utilisation of genetically superior animals to improve the production and performance of animals in the interest of the country”. In short, the AIA is an agricultural policy that governs livestock breeding and has (until recently) pertained to traditionally ‘farmed animals’ such as cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs and other domesticated animals:

On 17 May 2019, an Amendment to the Animal Improvement Act, 62 of 1998, was issued by the then Department Of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. In this amendment, lion, cheetah, rhino and giraffe have been added to the list of ‘farmable animals’, along with almost 30 other wild animal species.

But what does this mean, and why is it important?

Earlier this year, the NSPCA revealed horrific footage from a captive breeding facility in the North West Province where hundreds of lions and other animals were being kept in various stages of disease and neglect.
It is highly likely that those lions were being kept in captivity for the lion bone trade to South-East Asia, which supplements the tiger bone trade for traditional medicine. Due to the fact that these lions are being bred merely for their bones, their welfare falls by the wayside.

Multiple animals were confiscated for treatment, but many had to be euthanased due to the severity of their suffering.

By adding wild species to the AIA, is the South African Government now promoting intensive, captive breeding of these animals for commercial purposes? For species such as lion and rhino, it would seem that this Amendment will play right into the hands of unscrupulous wildlife breeders, many of whom are involved in the controversial breeding of lion for the bone trade, and rhino for the horn trade. According to Dr Ross Harvey, the inclusion of these animals in the AIA is worrying as the Act does not govern how they should be slaughtered, or what kinds of health considerations need to be observed.

Domesticated animals such as cattle and horses were selected based on specific characteristics and their full domestication took place over many hundreds of years. Predators and other wild species, on the other hand, are not and have never been domesticated successfully as they retain certain inherent wild characteristics that make them a danger to humans.

“The ongoing domestication of our wildlife is very concerning. It has no conservation benefit and in many cases, is damaging to our biodiversity,” says Dr Kelly Marnewick, a lecturer in the Department of Nature Conservation at the Tshwane University of Technology.

So what about the legal side of things?

There does seem to be some confusion as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), which legislates mostly on wild species and for biodiversity objectives, issued a statement in July 2019 declaring that the AIA Amendment “does not replace or supersede the provisions of conservation legislation” and that “animals listed under the AIA are still subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA) and provincial conservation legislation”.

This statement makes it sound as though all is well, and that the threatened species included in the AIA Amendment will be protected against exploitation. Under NEMBA, the Threatened or Protected Species (ToPS) Regulations requires that permits be issued for any “restricted activity” in relation to any listed threatened or protected species, which include rhino and lion. However, it appears the AIA Amendment conflicts with both NEMBA and the ToPS Regulations. According to NEMBA and the ToPS Regulations, “importing, exporting, possessing [and] breeding” of listed threatened species are considered to be restricted activities (NEMBA, 2004).

According to Don Pinnock of The Daily Maverick, NEMBA “has no provision for the welfare of individual animals” and “deals mainly with licencing of commercial use of listed or threatened species”. When the Department of Agriculture was contacted for comment about the Amendment, they advised that due to “changing farming systems in South Africa, game animals are included as these are already part of farm animal production systems in the country”. They also stated that no public participation process was needed for an amendment to an Act and that the change followed a request from ‘the industry’ in 2017.

Where to from here?

The Departments of Environment and Agriculture will be engaged to determine a way forward. Blood Lions and our partner organisations will be following these developments very closely.

If you would like to find out more, email or follow our social media pages for updates.

Youth For Lions Blog: LIVE WILD Lion Monitoring

Written by Cath Jakins
Published on 11 July, 2019

It is my opinion that there are very few genuine “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences left in this world. With technology advancing so rapidly, life is becoming progressively more connected and less authentic. Two weekends ago, however, I had the opportunity to experience something rarely experienced by members of the public: endangered species monitoring in the wild.

At the YouthForLions LIVE WILD Workshop, which took place in March of this year, a group of 8 high school and university students from KwaZulu-Natal won themselves a 2-day trip to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s iconic Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park to track and monitor wild lions with Wildlife ACT, a leading conservation and wildlife monitoring NGO. My YouthForLions colleagues and I were lucky enough to join in on the experience as chaperones for the students.

Upon arrival at the Nyalazi Gate on the Friday afternoon, the excitement amongst the students was palpable. We met up with four of Wildlife ACT’s Ambassadors who are part of their Community Conservation Programme and, accompanied by Zama Ncube from Wildlife ACT, made our way through the iMfolozi Game Reserve to the newly rebuilt Sontuli Education Centre where we would be staying for the weekend.

We arrived at camp just before sundown and spent the evening settling in to our dormitories. We were joined by two of the Wildlife ACT priority species monitors for an informative talk about the telemetry equipment used to track and monitor endangered species in the wild. It was early to bed that first night as we were told to be up and ready by 5am the following morning so that we could join up with the Wildlife ACT monitoring team for the morning.

Getting up at 4am in the pitch dark was certainly a new experience for many of us but after a quick breakfast, we bundled into a game drive vehicle which was kindly given to us for the weekend by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and set off into the dark bushveld. We met up with Fiona, the Wildlife ACT priority species monitor for iMfolozi, and her team of volunteers, who told us that they were on the trail of a naturally formed wild dog pack in the area. The anticipation bristled amongst our group as we followed closely behind the Wildlife ACT vehicle, stopping occasionally to pick up on the moving signal of the wild dog’s collar. After about 15 minutes of following and recording the signal, Fiona told us the disappointing news that, although we were less than a minute behind the dogs, we had lost them as they had crossed the nearby river.

We continued on in search of lion as the sun rose steadily over the Zululand bushveld. As we moved to a different section of the reserve and stopped to pick up the signal of the lion pride that resided in that area, we heard the welcome beeping of the telemetry equipment and got an excited ‘thumbs up’ from one of the Wildlife ACT volunteers – we had a bearing on the lions!

We moved off right away in the direction that the signal was coming from so that we could get an accurate triangulation. Wildlife ACT uses advanced GPS and VHF tracking collars to track and monitor endangered wildlife species including wild dog, lion, cheetah and rhino. The lion pride that we were tracking had an individual which was fitted with a VHF transmitter, also known as a pulse collar. This collar emits a pulsed radio signal (beeps) which allows the Wildlife ACT monitoring team to physically locate and observe the animal by homing in on the signal using a receiver and a directional antenna. The equipment, however, only gives a bearing of the animals’ whereabouts, not an actual physical location, so it can’t say “the lions are in this exact clearing” or “the wild dogs are under that specific bush”.

After following the signal beeps from the lion’s collar for some time, we came to a viewpoint overlooking a section of the river. Fiona told us to keep our eyes peeled across the river for any tawny movements. We knew the direction the lions were in and the approximate distance that they were from us. We all searched the opposite riverbank through our binoculars for what felt like ages, but sadly we could not get a visual on them in the dense bush. That is the way it works in the bush though; sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you drive around for hours with not much luck at all. That evening, however, we struck it lucky on our way back to camp after our second drive of the day.

We set out for our afternoon/evening drive at about 4pm after a delicious lunch and well-deserved afternoon naps. The temperature dropped steadily along with the sun until we were all bundled up in jackets and scarves on the back of the game viewer. The late-June winter wind that hits you on the backs of those game viewers is no laughing matter, but our spirits were high as we looked forward to seeing some of the nocturnal animals emerging as the sun set. The sunset was just magnificent and we all sat in complete awe as we watched it dip behind the trees.

As we meandered along the river on our way back to camp with the spotlights shining through the dense bush, there was much giggling and laughter as the scrub hares bounded and zigzagged across the road in the vehicle’s headlights. One of our group noticed strange looking droppings dotted all across the road ahead of us. “It looks like buffalo dung”, I said. The next thing we knew, we had rounded a corner and were completely surrounded by a massive breeding herd of buffalo. Mumbles of “it’s ok, stay calm” were drowned out by exclamations of “check that one’s horns” and “aw look at the baby!” Although I have visited many game reserves throughout my life, I have never been surrounded by such a huge herd of buffalo like that before.

That evening after dinner, we sat around the campfire telling stories, roasting marshmallows and discussing the work that Blood Lions ‘YouthForLions’ and Wildlife ACT do to conserve endangered species. We chatted with the youth about how valuable populations of wild lion really are and discussed different ways to improve the YouthForLions awareness reach. The students asked a few very interesting questions and some pertinent points were raised. Mark Gerrard and Zama Ncube of Wildlife ACT explained some of the finer details involved in wildlife conservation in South Africa and we had the opportunity to interact with the Wildlife ACT community ambassadors who have all grown up in rural areas surrounding protected areas.

That night, many of us were woken up by the rumbling sound of lions roaring very close to our camp. Excited whispers scattered through the dormitories as we heard the lions moving across the river and closer to our fence line. Janelle Barnard, YouthForLions Digital Marketing Manager was woken up by the unfamiliar sound at about 3am. “Once I came to my senses, I realised that it was lions roaring! The lions were so close that I could hear them crunching through the grass. Everyone woke up startled as the roars filled our room. It’s quite a comforting, yet daunting sound to hear in the bush because it reminds you that you are a guest in their space,” says Janelle.

On our way out of the reserve the following morning, as the usual ‘home-time’ holiday sadness began to creep up on us, our last sighting was a massive elephant bull ambling along the opposite hillside. We sat with him for a while, savouring the last few moments we had before heading back to the city. It was the perfect ending to a fantastic weekend in the African bushveld.

Reflecting back on the weekend, here is what our Live Wild winners had to say about their experiences:

I had an amazing experience this weekend! We were up at 4 in the morning to go and monitor lions and wild dogs, it was really cold and we had a lot of fun trying to spot animals all day and night. We learnt a lot, especially from Mark from Wildlife ACT, about all the ways game reserves operate and the different ways they have to be on alert for animals. Overall it was a really enjoyable experience and I would definitely do it again” – Alok More.

I would like to thank YouthForLions, Wildlife ACT and Ezemvelo for the wonderful weekend we had in iMfolozi. We learnt so much on the game drives and telemetry monitoring and got a chance to learn more about animal behaviour and patterns. We also saw elephants and a lot of buffalo on the drives, there were some very funny moments and all of us will cherish the memories, especially those Buffaphants Kyra!” – Makaira Kerkhof.

All thanks to the Blood Lions ‘YouthForLions’ team for giving us such an incredible and amazing weekend getaway trip. I truly enjoyed every moment spent in the bush and would like to thank the team for giving us an experience of how animals are monitored within the park. I was also enlightened on conservation of wildlife and endangered species. I wish YouthForLions all the best with their campaign and educating people about the importance of protecting South African wildlife and endangered species” – Nokubonga Mthembu.

The weekend away with YouthForLions and Wildlife ACT was such an amazing experience! It was a great opportunity for me as it was the first time that I had been on a game drive and lion monitoring. As a Nature Conservation graduate, I finally got a chance to see different species that I had never seen before, such as elephant and warthog. We got to meet other wildlife organizations (Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT) and I enjoyed meeting different youth from difference places. YouthForLions really is playing a significant role, not only in South Africa, but worldwide. I encourage the youth to get involved and share this wonderful experience with YouthForLions” – Siboniso Mthiyane.

This trip was an amazing and wonderful experience as it brought me confidence, joy and admiration due to the value I place on the fundamental conservation and wildlife communities. I absolutely loved this trip and I am very grateful for what YouthForLions, Wildlife ACT and the Ezemvelo community made possible for us. From amazing sunrises to the incredible wildlife sights, these will always be memories I will truly cherish. Thank you” – Kyra Foster.

The YouthForLions weekend in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park was such a fun trip. We saw a lot of rhino, buffalo and we even saw 4 elephants on the weekend. The Wildlife ACT monitoring with the telemetry was an amazing experience, we tracked lions and wild dogs but unfortunately, we couldn’t see them because they were behind the bushes. We went on 2 game drives, the first one we came back in the dark and saw a massive herd of buffalo just a few metres away and the sunrises and sunsets were beautiful. Thank you to everyone that made it happen: Wildlife ACT, Ezemvelo and most importantly the YouthForLions team” – Odin Kerkhof.

On behalf of Blood Lions ‘YouthForLions’, we would like to extend a massive THANK YOU to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT for giving our team and the Live Wild winners this truly “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

Youth For Lions Blog: The Power of Educating our Youth

Written by Stephanie Emmy Klarmann
Published on 15 March, 2019

© Stephanie Emmy Klarmann

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 Emmy 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.

Youth For Lions Blog: Creating Awareness with Tomorrow’s Leaders

Written by Cath Jakins
Published 10 December, 2018

Welcome to the new YouthForLions Blog, and welcome to our very first blog post. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Cath, the new Blood Lions ‘YouthForLions’ Coordinator. My role at ‘YouthForLions’ is to raise awareness and educate the youth of South Africa (and the world) about the captive breeding of lions in South Africa and the importance of not interacting with these majestic animals.

When I joined the Blood Lions team in June, I was a little bit nervous about speaking in front a big group of people. But less than a month into my new job, my first presentation was a 15 minute talk to a hall of over 400 school children and their teachers. And it was fantastic!

One of my favourite parts of these presentations is when I ask who has touched a lion or another wild animal. Seeing majority of the hands in the room (including mine) go up will always take my breath away. The sheer number of people, both young and old, who have been duped by the con that is cub petting, is shocking.

I usually follow on from this with a video clip about why we shouldn’t be petting lion cubs. During the clip I like to look around the room to gauge the audience’s reactions. Some look sad, some seem indifferent but almost always, most are shocked. Interacting with wild animals is a popular holiday activity around the world. From elephant back rides in India to lion cub petting in South Africa, wildlife interactions are what many people crave when going on holiday. What majority of holiday makers don’t realise though is the massive negative impact they are having on the lives of these animals.

Generally, lion cubs that are born in captivity are taken away from their mothers when they are between 3 and 10 days old. The reason for this is so that the mothers go straight back into oestrus when their cubs are removed from them. This practice is done to ensure that they will breed again immediately. In captivity, lionesses often breed up to four or five times faster than they would in the wild.

Cubs that are hand raised, bottle fed and used for cub petting attractions grow up to be used in lion walking attractions. These sub-adult lions are trained, pretty much the same way that circus animals are trained, to climb trees and pose on rocks for “selfies”.

Once fully grown, these now tame lions are often sold to captive hunting establishments where they are added to a catalogue, and given a price to be shot and killed by “canned” or captive lion hunters from around the world. Because they have been so used to people feeding and handling them, they are not afraid of humans and seldom run away or try to defend themselves. This is just one of the ways in which hand reared and bottle fed lion cubs end up. Others are kept in their small enclosures and killed so that their bones can be exported to South East Asia to supplement the tiger bone trade.

My focus at YouthForLions is to educate young people about the captive lion breeding industry and related activities, and to create change in the future. We believe that awareness of the horrific conditions in which many of these animals live, and the fate that awaits them, will discourage most people from visiting or supporting facilities that contribute to these industries.

Our wildlife is our heritage, and it is the youth of today who will be the custodians of tomorrow!

To get involved and spread the word, visit our website and follow us on social media where you can like and share all our posts.

If you would like me to visit your school or university and host a screening or presentation, email me on Keep an eye on our social media pages for blog updates from now on.