Why a life entertaining tourists is no life for a lion

Why a life entertaining tourists is no life for a lion


The new trends to walk with lions and pet lion cubs cause these wild animals a lifetime of suffering. And by participating, tourists are inadvertently helping to fund their ongoing torture.

Lions are incredible animals, majestic, regal and deadly – it’s easy to understand why unsuspecting tourists want to get up close and personal with them. It is also tragic to see this interest in wildlife driving the demand for a cruel industry. 

Denying them a natural life

The lions that ‘walk’ with tourists have been denied their natural lives. They are normally hand-reared to develop the necessary strong bond with humans (Hunter et al., 2013). They are never given the chance to live as a real lion. They will never learn to hunt or be able to play for hours with the other cubs and adults in their pride.

They are also unable to spend their adolescence with their mother, learning from her, and being nurtured by her and this is a critical part of their development process.

The end result is abnormal adult lions without the necessary social and survival skills for life in the wild (Hunter et al., 2013). Consequently, lion parks claim that their animals are the ‘real thing’, and ‘living as nature intended’ – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Hand-reared, lion cubs are separated from their mother at a very early age. Like all mammals, lions depend on their mothers as they grow up and they form an attachment very quickly (Gubernick, 2013; Newberry & Swanson, 2008). Separated cubs become incredibly distressed and fearful while the mothers becomes distraught at the removal of her cubs (Newberry & Swanson, 2008).

Lions can't be tamed

Lions can never be tamed or domesticated – nor should they. Their needs are just not compatible with our needs. They have evolved for thousands of years to live in their natural environment?

One interesting study found that lions are entirely unsuitable to life in captivity (Clubb & Mason, 2003, 2007). In the wild, lions have one of the largest home ranges of all large carnivores, in which they travel in on a daily basis. This means that when they are caged, lions will pace more than other animals (Clubb & Mason, 2007).

When these lions aren’t ’entertaining’ tourists by walking or being petted by them they are kept in a cage for hours at a time. This happens especially during periods in the low tourist season, and at night when they should be most active. Cooped up lions become frustrated and bored, and they will often perform stereotypic behaviours such as pacing. This is not only heart-breaking to watch but is a clear sign that an animal is not coping with their environment (Bashaw & Kelling, 2007; Mason, 1991).

There are, of course, many ways to see lions in the wild. Sadly, the tourists visiting walking and petting attractions will be unaware of cruelty involved and the behind-the-scenes suffering. This is why we are telling the lions’ stories for them.

References and extra reading

Bashaw, M., & Kelling, A. (2007). Environmental Effects on the Behavior of Zoo-housed Lions and Tigers, with a Case Study o the Effects of a Visual Barrier on Pacing. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 10(2), 95–109.

Club, R., & Mason, G. (2003). Animal welfare: captivity effects on wide-ranging carnivores. Nature, 425, 473–474.

Clubb, R., & Mason, G. (2007). Natural behavioural biology as a risk factor in carnivore welfare: How analysing species differences could help zoos improve enclosures. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 102(3-4), 303–328.

Gubernick, D. (2013). Parental care in mammals. Springer Science & Business Media.

Hunter, L., White, P., Henschel, P., Frank, L., Burton, C., Loveridge, A., … Breitenmoser, U. (2013). Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions Panthera leo in species restoration. Oryx, 47(1), 19–24.

Mason, G. (1991). Stereotypies: a critical review. Animal Behaviour, 41, 1015–1037.

Newberry, R., & Swanson, J. (2008). Implications of breaking mother–young social bonds. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 110(1-2), 3–23.

BY: Helen Proctor, Sentience Manager at World Animal Protection

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