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Joburg Lion Park: We want to ban petting but we need the money

Cape Town – It’s a case of, ‘we can’t beat them so we’ll join them until it all gets bannedfollowing the current controversy surrounding the Lion Park in Johannesburg, as it has backtracked on a decision to stop lion cub petting.

Lion cub petting is believed to be one of the many pitfalls of South Africa’s notorious canned lion hunting industry – an industry that has come under much scrutiny in the run up to CITES CoP17, set to be held in Johannesburg at the end of September.

Traveller24 contacted the Lion Park to find out exactly why it has decided to shy away from the decision to offer a more authentic safari experience as it put it when the announcement was made in June 22.

n response the Lion Park General Manager Whin Booyens, submitted the following statement says, “We had every intention running the new park without cub petting and we tried to replace this with other activities. Unfortunately this led to a dramatic and unexpected drop in the number of visitors and tour operators.”

‘Our opposition still offers Lion Cub petting’ 

According to Booyens, the park was told “in no uncertain terms that the high demand for cub petting was causing them to rather visit our opposition where such activities are still offered”. Booyens says the “net result” has been an unfair playing field.

“Unless our competitors also stopped the cub petting, the massive R100m investment in our new world class facility, the survival of our business and the livelihoods of all our staff would be at stake.”

But what about the animals?

Booyens confirmed that the park re-introduced cub petting on the 13th of August, with immediate notification sent to CACH, EWT and NCPSA to explain the change in decision.

‘We are willing to eradicate cub petting with help’

Booyens says in the statement the park is “determined to eradicate cub petting” but only with help.

The park wants “other organisations and the government to ban cub petting altogether”, only then will it stop.

“We will give our full support to this cause and help to lobby the authorities to introduce legislation as soon as possible. As soon as this activity becomes illegal, all the players in this field will be in the same position and we will happily stop cub petting forever.”

“After the cubs are too old for petting, (around 6 months), we keep them until they die of natural causes or we donate them to reputable zoos and parks.”

Booyens says the park has over 70 lions and it keeps detailed records of each animal, even micro-chipping its cubs to monitor the animals’ movements.

“If making money was our only objective, surely these surplus lions would have been sold to hunters a long time ago?”

Listing Lions as an endangered species

While the Lion Park says it abhors canned lion hunting and refutes selling its lion cubs, the reality remains that South Africa’s canned lion hunting industry has many pitfalls and loopholes that feed into its existence.

While canned lion hunters and operators claim they’re an outlet of “protection and conservation” to wild lions, the reality is as hunting trophies become outlawed across major international markets including the US (SA’s largest market), the estimated 7 000 captive-bred lions in South Africa, face an uncertain and potentially abusive future.