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New tool to assess the wellbeing of lion cubs in the wildlife tourism industry

Managers of controversial wildlife interaction facilities, such as lion farms and petting zoos, can use the tool to assess if cubs are cared for in an ethical way.

New tool to assess the wellbeing of lion cubs in the wildlife tourism industry

Working with stakeholders from South Africa’s lion cub interaction industry, researchers have built an assessment tool using industry-leading 1000minds conjoint analysis software to evaluate the wellbeing of lion cubs used in tourist attractions. The objective of the tool is to ensure cubs are treated as ethically as possible and to identify unacceptable practices.

The tool assesses cubs’ wellbeing according to these potential welfare issues:

  • extent of social interactions that cubs get from other lions, especially their mother and other cubs
  • cubs’ freedom to choose their own environment and to retreat from forced human interactions
  • experience of caretakers
  • quality of nutrition, health care and breeding practices.

In addition, a list of nine unacceptable practices was compiled – such as using sick or sedated cubs in public displays or interactions, and transferring grown-up cubs to be hunted or slaughtered for their body parts for use in traditional medicine.

“Across the world, the welfare of lion cubs in interaction facilities varies considerably from shocking to as good as can be expected within the practice,” notes Ann Wilson, the lead author of the study. “It is really hoped that in countries which continue to make use of lion cubs for tourism interactions such as in the Middle East, where welfare standards are predominantly very poor, that the model will be applied and even tailored to their situation.”

The process for creating the tool can also be used as a model for building similar tools to assess the welfare of other animals used in wildlife tourism, which is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Currently, wildlife tourism accounts for 20-40% of all global tourism.

Although lion cub tourism is falling out of favor in South Africa, the practice is still popular in other places like the Middle East. The exact number of lions subjected to lion cub tourism is unknown, but is estimated to be 1000-10,000 globally, attracting up to 500,000 visitors a year. 

The assessment tool was created by holding a workshop with 15 expert stakeholders – from varying backgrounds, but all with experience involving lions – to identify the potential welfare issues. Next, 60 industry stakeholders were surveyed to determine weights on the welfare issues, representing their relative importance, for use in the tool.

More information about the study and the tool can be found here:

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