Lions are incredible animals, majestic, regal and deadly - I can understand why unsuspecting tourists want to get up close and personal with them. Tragically though, the new trend in 'walking with lions' and petting lion cubs cause a lifetime of suffering to these lions and by participating, tourists are helping to fund their ongoing torture. There are of course many ways to see lions in their natural environment; such as on a responsible safari. Here you can see their true behaviours and witness what really makes lions the awe-inspiring kings of the jungle.
The lions that 'walk' with tourists will typically be hand-reared to develop the necessary strong bond with humans (Hunter et al., 2013). They will never get the chance to live as a real lion. They will never learn how to hunt, they will never get to spend hours of the day playing with the other cubs and adults in the pride, and they will not get to spend their adolescence with their mother, learning from her, and being nurtured by her. The result is abnormal adult lions who don't have the necessary social and survival skills for life in the wild (Hunter et al., 2013). So the claims made about these lions being the 'real thing', and 'living as nature intended', couldn't be further from the truth.
To be hand-reared, lion cubs have to be 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). This means that when they are ripped away from their mother, the cubs are incredibly distressed and fearful, while the mother becomes distraught at the removal of her cubs (Newberry & Swanson, 2008). Of course we can't communicate with lions and explain what is happening, so this state of fear and distress can last for some time. Sadly the tourists visiting these exhibitions won't realise what these animals have gone through, unless we can tell their story for them. This is why World Animal Protection is mobilising governments, tourists and the tourist industry to take action and commit to protecting wild animals.
Lions can never and nor should they, be tamed or domesticated. Their needs are just not compatible with sharing their lives with humans, and why should they when they have evolved for thousands of years to live in the environment they do. 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, they are kept in a cage. They will spend a great deal of their time in there, especially during periods in the low tourist season, and at night when lions are often most active. Cooped up, these lions will become frustrated and bored, and will often perform stereotypic behaviours such as pacing. This is not only heart-breaking to watch but it is a clear sign that an animal is not coping with their environment (Bashaw & Kelling, 2007; Mason, 1991).
Join World Animal Protection to put wildlife protection on the agenda and reduce the tourist demand for cruel animal entertainment attractions.
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.
Clubb, 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.