24 August 2012
Categories: Homepage News, Big Cats Campaign News
A report published in July 2012, ‘Walking with Lions: Why there is no role for captive-origin lions (Panthera leo) in species restoration’, questions the conservation claims of captive programmes that breed lion cubs for handling and ‘walking with’ opportunities, paid for by members of the public.
For some time, the Born Free Foundation has had a number of concerns about volunteering opportunities involving the captive breeding of animals, in particular lions. These programmes often involve the removal and hand-rearing of cubs in order to offer volunteers the opportunity to experience ‘walking with’ sessions and other close encounters. The welfare of animals kept under these conditions and subjected to these practices is of major concern to Born Free as are the risks to which members of the public are being exposed.
There are also a number of other unanswered questions: are lions used by these establishments caught from the wild; what happens when hand-reared lions become too old or too large to be used in close proximity to humans; have any of these animals been successfully released into the wild and, if so, how many and when?
Born Free receives regular enquiries about such programmes and strongly recommends (see our volunteer guidelines) that, as attractive as spending time up close with a wild animal may appear to be, there are more worthwhile and genuine alternatives which deliver a clear benefit to species conservation and animal welfare which volunteers should prioritise instead.
Many ‘walking with’ programmes are unashamedly commercial and may be linked to the appalling canned hunting industry, but other enterprises such as ALERT (African Lion and Environmental Research Trust) have long attempted to claim that their breeding operations are of conservation value to the species. However, Born Free strongly believes that with lion populations facing a spiralling downward trend across Africa, these practices represent a misdirection of sorely needed effort and funding away from credible conservation initiatives which reduce conflict with humans, protect existing wild populations and establish new ones by moving wild lions into appropriate areas.
Now, a recently published peer-reviewed paper (July 2012), written by nine of the world’s most renowned big cat biologists and conservationists, and published in Oryx, the international conservation science journal, backs up much of what Born Free and others have been saying about the “lion encounter industry”.
The paper roundly rejects the conservation value claimed by ALERT and similar operations, stating that:
“…even under the best possible circumstances, breeding lions in captivity does little to address the root causes of the species’ decline in the wild. Resources and attention would be more productively steered towards securing existing lion habitat and mitigating anthropogenic killing of lions and their prey… Current proposals for reintroduction of captive lions contribute little to these issues and instead distract from meaningful efforts to conserve the lion in situ”.
The paper goes on to conclude that “…given that no lions have been restored to the wild by this process since efforts started in 1999 (ALERT, 2008), a period during which hundreds of wild founders have been translocated successfully, it cannot be considered a model that should be widely adopted for large felids”.
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