Skip to content

Interactive Wildlife Tourism

Written by Cath Jakins
Published on 20 June, 2019

During the months of April and May, I had the privilege of attending two internationally recognised travel and trade shows in South Africa with the Blood Lions team: World Travel Market (WTM) Africa in Cape Town and Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban. Neither of these travel shows are open to the public like normal exhibitions, instead attendees are international buyers, travel operators and media personnel from around the world

Our aim at these shows was to engage with the tourism industry and garner support for our Blood Lions ‘Born To Live Wild’ tourism campaign. The campaign is based on a pledge which has been signed by over 160 tourism operators around the world who do not support the captive breeding, canned hunting and commercial exploitation of wild animal species.

By signing the pledge, tourism operators are committing to “not knowingly book or support any breeder or operator that contributes to the cycle of breeding, exploitation and senseless killing of predators. This includes all petting and ‘walking with lion’ facilities.” Those who sign the pledge also commit to securing the survival of Africa’s predators in the wild by supporting and promoting “Africa as an authentic, wild and ethical tourism destination.”

My colleagues and I met with over 50 international and local buyers and tourism operators at both WTM and Indaba. Only about 30% of those we met with knew about Blood Lions or the interactive wildlife tourism industry. I was, and still am, shocked by this level of ignorance and naivety from the tourism industry.

I normally start my discussions with people by asking if they know anything about Blood Lions and the negative effects of interactive wildlife activities, like cub petting and ‘walking with lion’ attractions. Almost every person I spoke to at these travel shows knew what I meant when I said ‘interactive tourism’ or ‘cub petting’, and they could even name a few places that offered these activities; but majority of those I spoke to were shocked at the information I was giving them. I showed people our animated Life Cycle of a Captive Bred Lion clip and watched their faces turn from shock to dismay as the realisation kicked in.

With the term ‘Responsible Tourism’ becoming a buzz-word in the global tourism industry, it amazed me how few tourism operators knew the truth behind what is really going on in South Africa.

What is ‘interactive tourism’ you ask?

Well, when you Google the term ‘interactive tourism’, the top search result conveniently is an article off the Blood Lions website from 2017 titled “Interactive tourism and voluntourism”. Although this is great for Blood Lions exposure, that particular article doesn’t give a concise definition of what ‘interactive tourism’ actually is.

The ‘interactive wildlife tourism’ that I am referring to is any tourist attraction that allows you (the tourist) to encounter and physically interact with a ‘wild’ animal being held in captivity. The interactive wildlife tourism industry includes everything from lion cub petting to elephant-back riding and ‘walking with lion’ activities. In May of this year, National Geographic released an article titled “Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism” reporting the results of an investigation into the ‘dismal lives’ lead by captive animals used for wildlife tourism encounters. According to the article by Natasha Daly and Kirsten Luce, “Wildlife tourism isn’t new, but social media is setting the industry ablaze, turning encounters with exotic animals into photo-driven bucket-list toppers”.

©Pippa Hankinson

With tell-all articles like this out there and ‘responsible tourism’ becoming more common, it really surprises me how few people in the tourism industry are fully aware of the impact that these interactive activities have on the animals involved. The reality is that, by interacting with ‘wild’ animals in captivity, tourists and volunteers are contributing to the never-ending cycle of cruelty and abuse. The same animals that are used for interactions may well have been bred under intensive agricultural conditions and, if they are not shot in a hunt, could end up as part of the lion bone trade.

But there are good places to visit, right?

Well, yes, you do get bona vide sanctuaries that offer their (normally rescued) animals a home for life and DO NOT breed, trade or allow human interaction with their animals. We simply urge people to educate themselves and to ask the right questions before considering visiting a facility:

  • Do they offer any activities based on animal and human interaction?
  • If it claims to be a sanctuary, do they offer life-long care for their animals?
  • Are they trading in animals?
  • Where did all the animals come from and where do some of them go?
  • Who is their recognised predator ecologist or scientist?
  • Have any of their animals been released into the wild? And if so, where and when?

Our suggestion to tourists coming to Africa is to rather visit one of our many incredible National Parks and true wilderness areas to see wild lions in their natural habitat.

In addition to asking the right questions and being a responsible tourist, we call on the travel and tourism industry to join the Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ campaign by signing the Born to Live Wild pledge. By signing the pledge and adding their logos to the webpage, travel operators pledge against the exploitation of our wildlife and commit to supporting and promoting the formal conservation community in their endeavours to secure the survival of Africa’s predators in the wild.

©Pippa Hankinson

Visit the Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ webpage:

‘Sign’ the Born to Live Wild pledge by emailing your tourism company logo to