Taking Pictures with Lions

Taking Pictures With Lions – What You Need To Know

Wildlife Encounter Centers and Taking Pictures With Lions: What You Need To Know

Every year thousands of tourists embark on a journey coming from all over the world to visit Africa and to see the beautiful wild lands and the large animals who roam the millions of acres. There are no zoos where you can go up and handle these magnificent creatures though and of course the draw to do so is a strong one.

There is a thirsty curiosity born in all people and we love to touch the beautiful things we can see. And so it amazes many to find out that for a price, they can touch these beautiful and strong lions. Their children can sit down with cubs and have their pictures taken and they can all pet and interact with an exotic species in a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Sounds almost too intriguing to be real? Read more to find out the actual cost of this magical wildlife experience.

Captive Breeders

In order to keep a consistent supply of cubs coming in, a group of one or two lions and several lionesses are kept. In order to get more cubs from each lioness, the cubs are taken away from her at 6 months so that she will breed again before her normal time of two years after her litter was born.

For the lioness, she does not understand the loss and so to her it is the same as having her cubs killed by a rival lion. It is solely meant to benefit the owner of the facility because it resets her breeding pattern so she can breed again and provides them with cubs for the paying customers to look at, handle and have their pictures taken with.

Petting Cubs

Posing for Photo with Lion Cub

When the customers play and interact with the cubs, it can be enjoyable for both species. A bond forms between young lions and their human benefactors. The lives of the people are changed as a sense of wonder and awe swells up within them at being allowed such an experience. They have taken part in gaining this magnificent species trust.

But that trust will soon be broken, because a while after the tourist has gone back home to the safety of their own lives, this animal’s trust will be exploited to take that same young lions life in an unimaginably cruel way.

Lion Hunting or Canned Lion Hunts

After the cute little cubs become too big, they are transferred to a different kind of facility. Most of the lionesses will go into breeding programs and most of the lions will go into lion hunting captivity. Here the lions will reach full size because most people who want to hunt lions want ones with a full shaggy mane for their pictures.

The area will vary in size from a few acres to several square miles. Hunters basically will pay to drive out in the fenced area and shoot what they may or may not know is a domesticated lion. The lions have been coming to humans for food and were handled all of their young lives, so it is completely natural for them to wander close to the humans.

There is absolutely no more sport in it than stalking your house cat around your home with a gun. The same cute, fluffy cubs that tourists get their pictures taken with, will have their lives come to an end at the hand of other tourists who will shoot them just to mount their head on a wall or turn them into a rug for their fireplace.

The Conservation Fund Myth

There are many places that will offer tours or trips called wildlife encounters. While in some areas these are programs offered as part of a legitimate zoo or conservation group, you have to know what you are looking for to be sure that they are legitimate educational experienced and not these wildlife amusement parks.

A real rehabilitation program for an injured lion, for example would not include handling it more than necessary for medical treatment. The claim that the lions are being rehabilitated for release is an outright lie. Domesticated lions cannot be released into the wild for several reasons:

  • They do not know how to hunt for food to survive.

They grew up on the foods given to them in a cage. Even when they are provided some live food like stray dogs, there is a huge difference between catching a stray dog in a pen and stalking an antelope on the Savanna. A captive born lion would starve within weeks if it was not killed first.

  • They do not know how to fight.

Captive born lions may get into a tiff with each other now and then, but it is nothing like what they would encounter when wandering into a pride’s territory. Even just a lioness would be considered an intruder by the pride and would be attacked.

  • They have no fear of people.

Because they have been around people their whole lives, they may go look for people. They know that people feed them and younger memories include pets and cuddles. It would not occur to them to avoid a village. The moment a lion appeared near a village it would be destroyed. Lion attacks never go well for the human, so no one would hesitate to take down a lion approaching a town or village.

The Real Deal

Taking Pictures With Lions - What You Need To Know

Is there truth in the claims that a wildlife encounter center is rehabilitating lions for release into the wild? Even if some of these places were donating money to an actual wildlife conservation fund, that would be a bit like the drug dealers donating a bit of money to fund a rehab hospital. The small act of charity in no way diminishes the cruelty of raising lions to be petted as youngsters and then hunted like fish in a barrel. 

The claim of the facility benefiting conservation is nothing less than a marketing ploy to convince unsure customers that what they are doing helps the lions. That way they can sell their wildlife experiences to those who have a conscience by telling them that what they are doing is good.

But as in all cases there might be exceptions or justifications. Let’s look at one example. Some sanctuaries rescued lions from conditions that, were they not liberated, the lions would not have survived. These are mostly lions that are already in a state where they cannot fend for themselves in the wild. Due to lack of funding these centers then have to jump through any hoop to keep their current stock alive, and the big revenue generator is then to allow encounters, or under very dire financial conditions, sell one or two young males off to a stranger who showed up with a fat cheque book. Easy guess as to where those lions are going. The line between right or wrong sometimes become blurred under conditions such as these.

What Can You Do?

The only thing that is going to stop these practices is to dry up the demand. People have to understand what they are buying into and stop the market themselves. If the business is not making money anymore, the owners are going to stop doing it. There is no actual conservation goal. These places are in it to make money like any theme park. If the people stop coming, they will pack up and move on to another business.

But to do this people have to stop paying to handle the cubs and stop paying to hunt down domesticated and imprisoned lions. If you are planning a trip to Africa to see wildlife, research what the places you plan to tour are. Find out what they do and if they are affiliated with any legitimate conservation or educational foundations. If someone you know is going, tell your friends what you know. The only way this ends is when it is no longer profitable.


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Kristen Dondlinger
Kristen Dondlinger is a writer, researcher and nature enthusiast. While
continually balancing enhancing her education in Biology and Physics with
her love for natural living, she makes her home with her husband and
children in the beautiful Missouri Ozarks.

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