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African lion (Panthera leo) cubs are extensively used in South Africa in wildlife-interaction tourist activities. Facilities provide close interaction opportunities, but the welfare impacts on the cubs are unclear. A workshop was held with 15 lion-experienced stakeholders, including government officials, nature conservationists, animal welfare organisations, lion breeders, lion handlers, an animal ethologist, wildlife veterinarian, wildlife rehabilitation specialist and an animal rights advocacy group representative. Individual representatives nominated a range of welfare concerns, and 15 were identified for discussion and prioritisation. The leading welfare concern was a lack of governance and regulation within the industry. Participants agreed on nine non-negotiable practices affecting welfare concerns, which included ethical concerns, such as cubs exiting into the ranching industry (farming of lions for hunting) and the bone trade (lions being slaughtered for their bones, which are exported for lion bone wine) once petting age has passed. Welfare concerns representative of current management practices within the lion cub interaction industry were compared for importance using an online adaptive conjoint analysis survey of 60 stakeholders in the industry. The survey identified the most important welfare concerns to be poor social grouping of cubs, an inability for cubs to choose their own environment and retreat from a forced interaction, a lack of trained and dedicated caretakers, and poor breeding practices. The conjoint analysis survey results produced a value model, which can be used as a tool to score cubs' welfare in interaction facilities, and it identified unacceptable practices lacking welfare consideration.


Ann Wilson, Clive J C Phillips. Identification and Evaluation of African Lion (Panthera leo) Cub Welfare in Wildlife-Interaction Tourism. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI. 2021 Sep 20;11(9)

PMID: 34573714

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