Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have been urged by Humane Society International/Africa not to take part in captive bred lion cub cuddling during their tour of South Africa.
South Africa has an estimated 8,000 – 11,000 captive-bred lions on hundreds of farms across the country, supplying lion cubs used for petting as tourist attractions where visitors from around the world take selfies, oblivious to the suffering behind their holiday photos. Lack of awareness of the cruelty and suffering behind every cub photo or pay-to-pet experience, is one of the biggest drivers of this industry that ultimately ends with lions being sold to canned hunts once they are too large to pet, where they are shot by trophy hunters and their bones destined for the lion bone trade in Asia.
The letter to the royal couple reads: “One of the most urgent wildlife protection issues here in South Africa is what’s called the “snuggle scam” of so-called tourist facilities offering unsuspecting visitors photo opportunities, including petting and bottle-feeding very young lion cubs, or walking experiences with captive older lions.
We are writing to respectfully request you to decline any invitation you may receive to pet or walk with lions during your trip.
South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry is a vicious cycle of exploitation, from cradle to grave. Cubs are taken away from their mothers at just a few days old, hand-reared by paying volunteers who are misled into believing the cubs are orphans, exploited as tourist props, and then once they are too big and dangerous, these same lions are sold to canned-lion hunters to be shot for thousands of dollars or killed so that their bones can be exported to Asia for so-called “traditional medicines.”
The South African government sanctions the captive lion breeding industry and has established a quota for the international lion bone trade, despite growing global outrage. South Africa is a popular tourist destination that welcomed approximately 10.3 million foreign tourists and facilitated 17.2 million domestic tourism trips in 2017. Most tourists come from North America, South and Central America, and Europe.
With fewer than 3,000 wild lions, South Africa has more lions languishing in captivity than in the wild.
In the wild, lion cubs remain with their mothers for 18 months, and females rest for at least 15-24 months between litters. Cubs born on breeding farms are taken away from their mothers when they are a few days or even hours old.
The removal of cubs forces the mother into an exhausting and continuous breeding cycle while incarcerated in enclosures, sometimes without adequate food, hygiene, or the ability to express their natural behaviours.
Lions are a threatened species, listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibits the trade of bones from wild lions, it does allow South Africa to export bones from captive lions.
It is impossible to differentiate body parts from wild vs. captive lions, so the legal export of captive lion bones facilitates the illegal export of wild lion bones.