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Some ethical issues in Victoria Falls
…especially lion and elephant encounters

The National Parks, conservancies and in particular areas where the main Victoria Falls and Livingstone human populations have settled are under immense pressure with inevitable human/animal conflict and environmental poaching.

Tourism demand in Victoria Falls brings some reward but adds pressure to the balance as well.

Two tourism activities that rightfully raise eyebrows are the lion and elephant encounters.  This might mean little to most but answers to some questions aren't always crystal clear and there's a lively ethical debate on which we've taken a position.

Lion Encounters

Why are lion encounters controversial? 

Animal welfare groups claim that the lions used in lion encounter programmes lack the necessary hunting skills to survive and can therefore never be reintroduced into the wild. As adults, the lions are also too dangerous to stay in contact with humans. The result according to animal activists is that many captive lions end up in the canned hunting industry. (This is NOT the case with lions held captive in Victoria Falls.)

Where do the "lion encounter" cubs come from?

The "lion encounter" operates the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program on behalf of ALERT.

Given the rapid decline of free-ranging lion populations (between 80% and 90% in the last 50 years), ALERT supports assisted lion reintroduction into specific sites where lion populations have been eradicated. Whenever possible, reintroductions include the release of young adult wild lions captured for the purpose of translocation and release.

Where there's no available source population of suitable wild lions, ALERT has instigated a multi-stage program to reintroduce lions originally bred from captive individuals. Captive lions that lack hunting skills are bred in fenced areas. Their offspring are raised around humans and take part in the "lion encounter" program.  

So what happens to the cubs once they outgrow the encounter program?

Because these cubs are accustomed to humans, it's easier to study their behaviour patterns and learn about the traits necessary to form a successful pride, how they develop various hunting skills, etc.

Once the "lion encounter" cubs mature and learn to hunt, they're used to form prides which are released in large enclosures (10,000 acres plus) with natural game, and they're carefully shielded from human contact. These prides are intended to maximise the breeding and survival of offspring.  Their cubs are then released at an appropriate age into the wild. For more go to the ALERT site. 

What is canned hunting?

In a nutshell, the concept of "canned hunting" of lions means that the "trophy" shot by the hunter has been raised through a captive breeding program. There are many of these in South Africa, for example, where breeding populations of lions are kept in enclosures, and their offspring offered to sale for "hunters" who arrive at the game ranch/breeding facility.

The hunters are taken to a pre-arranged area where the captive bred lion has been conveniently installed; often times drugged and baited, where they level their high-powered rifles, and take home their wall-hanging, eventually artfully rendered by a taxidermist.

How do we know the Victoria Falls lions are not sold onto the canned hunting industry?

Despite several public and private investigations, there's no evidence to prove that the Victoria Falls lions are being sold on. We also have clear statements from "Lion Encounter" and "Shearwater" that it's not happening. The practice is however reality. Despite demand we do not offer lion encounters. If you decide to go direct please make an independent contribution to ALERT. 

Elephant Encounters

Why are elephant encounters controversial?

The use of any animal for the pleasure of human beings will always be a contentious issue never more so than in the case of elephant. There're also complex welfare, economic and environmental concerns associated with the capture, taming, training and utilisation of elephants. 

Where do the elephants come from?

Both the Thorntree and Elephant Camp operations are recognised havens for genuine orphaned elephants. In both cases they're committed to the long term care for these animals. Both operators are radically opposed to the capture of elephants in any form for commercial purposes.

As with the lions, elephant encounters and "elephant back trails" are a reality and there's clear demand from clients, despite this we do not offer elephant encounters. If you decide go direct please make an independent donation to the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit.

There's a bigger point however. Orphans from culling operations or poaching are a 'fait accompli'. These elephants can't be reintroduced into the wild so man now has a long term obligation to provide for their welfare. If a decent lifestyle can be found for these elephants then the people responsible for providing the welfare need support. 


Our conclusion...for now...

We're essentially against captive breeding of lions - the ideal would be habitat protection so that wild lion populations can sustain themselves. Unfortunately this is completely unrealistic in the face of what's happening to Africa's remaining wilderness areas.  We therefore support the ALERT efforts in Victoria Falls and Livingstone. 

With respect to the "elephant encounters" we believe that man now has a long term obligation to provide for the welfare of these captive herds. Funding needs are enormous and the people behind the likes of Wild Horizons Trust warrant support.


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