Sunday, 10 February 2013

Walking with lions – Conservation or abuse?

Whilst we are on topic, here's another background article on the ALERT/Lion Encounter 'Walking with lions' project, this time written by respected safari guide and conservation writer Ian Michler.
Walking with lions – Conservation or abuse?
By Ian Michler
Wildife Extra
Date: 2012?
There's a decided feel-good factor to cuddling a lion cub or riding an elephant; it's something that, given half a chance, many of us would do without thinking twice. But would we be contributing to research and conservation, as wildlife-encounter operations claim? Probably not, says Ian Michler.
Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of enterprises across Africa that offer interactive or close-encounter experiences with wildlife; sign up and you can walk or romp with a wild animal, cuddle it or even ride it. Such operations include primate and bird parks, elephant-back riding and diving with crocodiles; and the most popular are those that feature the large cats.
...Some of them take a frank approach and sell themselves for what they are - commercial ventures that rely on the lure of a ‘touchy-feely' encounter. But there are many others that have a deceptive tagline, promoting themselves under the banner of conservation, science or education in an attempt to acquire legitimacy for their activities. And, although organisations such as these may be supported by a sector of the general public and some of the large local and international tour operators, they find little favour within the wider conservation and wildlife management communities.
African Encounter and Antelope Park - ALERT
These communities' attitude to the African Encounter and Antelope Park outfits that run the ‘Walk with Lions' operations in Zambia and Zimbabwe suggests that they, for example, fall into the latter category. Both are directly linked to the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), which attempts to legitimise their lion captive-breeding programmes and money-spinning tourist operations. It claims that charging visitors large sums of money to walk with sub-adult lions and cuddle captive-bred cubs is justified because the outfits are involved in data-collection and reintroduction programmes. Is it coincidence that they have set up shop in towns that draw substantial numbers of tourists to view the Victoria Falls, one of Africa's iconic sights?
What's more, these outfits list a number of volunteer agencies as ‘supporters'. Persuading foreign volunteers to pay for an African experience on the basis that the work they do is beneficial makes for an extremely lucrative business model. But further investigation reveals that most of the volunteer agencies are also linked to the ALERT network.
And, ALERT's vigorous efforts notwithstanding, not a single recognised carnivore conservation or research institution in Africa or elsewhere will have anything to do with it. Panthera, a respected global organisation involved in wild cat conservation, brings together the world's felid experts to direct and implement effective management strategies. Notable exceptions from this pool are ALERT and its sister bodies.
Read the full article here: Walking with lions – Conservation or abuse?

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