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FFrom African elephants, buffalos, and cheetahs to leopards and exotic primates, South Africa is home to a wide variety of wildlife species. They're undoubtedly one of the many highlights of our beautiful country, which attracts an influx of visitors every year. However, let's do the responsible thing, and let tourists appreciate the animals from a safe and respectable distance.
It's important that wildlife remain and roam freely in their natural habitat. They should never be confined to small spaces in so-called sanctuaries - parks that promote cub petting and rehabilitation centres.
A wildlife institution should meet the mandates of conservation, release, education and wildlife awareness, and not promote the captivity of and interaction with animals. Unfortunately, there are many establishments in South Africa that do not adhere to this mandate and have been known to use wild animals for commercial exploitation. It's assumed there're roughly 200 facilities holding approximately 6 000 and 8 000 animals in cages and captivity.
As tour operators, owners of safari camps and other establishments in the tourism industry in South Africa, do your bit and stand up against this practice. It is our duty to avoid promoting and selling animal interaction experiences.
Well known travel organisations such as African Travel & Tourism Association (ATTA) as well as Thomas Cook have already voiced their disapproval and the South African Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona has said: ''South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on.''
Reasons to stand up against this practice include the realisation that breeding lions in captivity has no conservation value; captive-bred lions are tame and therefore unable to survive in the wild; breeding farms and captive facilities easily mislead volunteers and visitors into believing that theyâ€™re an authentic wildlife sanctuary promoting animal ecology and conservation.
According to Ian Michler (co-campaign leader to the feature documentary Blood Lions) over 100 of the world's leading safari and ecotourism operators signed up to the Born to Live Wild pledge in 2016. In the pledge, they committed to:
- Promoting the wildness of predators.
- Endorsing responsible and authentic tourism destinations.
- Giving support to the legitimate conservation community.
Dr Simon Morgan, Director of Wildlife Act Fund, says: "We applaud all of those that are willing to stand up and be counted, ensuring that tourism income and volunteer efforts are directed to true conservation efforts.'' If animal lovers would like to volunteer at animal centres, it's best that you contact a conservation agency for a referral to a recognised operation.
Rise up. Be part of the movement. Say NO to the exploitation of wild animals and help our tourists do the same.
*Featured image credit: Pippa Hankinson, Blood Lions