Park Breaks Its Promise To Stop Letting Tourists Pet Lions

Life is sad and short for these cubs. Let's break the cycle.

Lion cub petting looks really cute, but the truth behind it is chilling.

At parks all across South Africa, tourists pay to pet cubs, and vacationing volunteers help raise the cubs. Then, when the lions grow a little older, many parks sell them to canned hunting facilities - places where trophy hunters can go and pay to shoot a lion in a small enclosure.

So, when Lion & Safari Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, made a public promise to stop offering lion cub petting, it seemed like progress was being made in the fight against canned hunting.

This promise also came just after an American tourist was killed by a lion at the park in 2015. The year before, 60 Minutes exposed Lion & Safari Park for selling its cubs, bred to trust humans, to a place where people can shoot them.

Petting cubs just isn't good for them, even when the cub petting isn't linked to the hunting industry. Baby animals are often forcibly separated from their mothers at very young ages so that people can get close to them. Selfies with baby animals perpetuate the impression that petting a wild animal is OK.

"We're not going to back out of this - we can't," Scott Simpson, assistant manager at the park, told Enca in 2015. "We've made a public commitment."

But recent images on Instagram show that promises can be broken.

"In a series of saddening recent images[,] ... Lion Park, based in Lanseria ... [has] gone back on their previous statements and guarantees that they would stop all lion cub interactions and are now offering tourists the opportunity to pet lion cubs at their new park," Captured in Africa Foundation wrote on Facebook this week. "It seems they have now gone back on their promise. More lion cubs are now being used for tourist entertainment."

Nowhere on its website does the park say it offers this attraction.

After the images surfaced this week, Rodney Fuhr, CEO of the park, issued a statement admitting the park's change of heart: "We are not competing on a level playing field and unless our competitors also stop the cub interaction ... the survival of our business will be at stake."

Promising to work with the South African government to ban cub petting, Fuhr said the park had "no choice but to temporarily reintroduce cub interaction ... We will give our full support to this cause and help to lobby the authorities to introduce legislation as soon as possible."

For the lions, change in this cruel industry just can't come fast enough.

Click here for a list of rescue organizations and sanctuaries where you can see lions responsibly.

Lion & Safari Park did not immediately reply to The Dodo's request for comment.