In a post-Covid world where travelers are increasingly focused on ecotourism destinations and wholesome nature-based tourism, South Africa has taken a strong stance against the exploitation of wildlife.
The country has announced plans to ban the breeding of lions in captivity for trophy hunting or for cub-petting tourist activities in a bid to promote a more authentic African experience. Barbara Creecy, South Africa's minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, said she wanted to take action immediately to put an end to cub-petting and other such activities involving captive-bred lions. Although this decision is yet to be formulated into policy, it is a major step forward for the country.
Although South Africa has a rich and admirable conservation history, captive-lion breeding has been a problematic aspect of the nation's tourism industry for years. It has been said that as many as 8,000 lions languish in more than 200 captive breeding facilities across the country. These animals are bred exclusively to generate money.
Unfortunately, unsuspecting tourists have fueled this practice by participating in activities such as petting cubs and walking with lions. Tourists are being told that these are conservation activities and that the lion cubs will be released back into the wild. However, once they grow to adulthood, most of these animals are moved to "canned hunting" facilities where they are shot in small enclosures by sport hunters.
Although South Africa has a rich conservation history, captive lion breeding has been a problematic aspect of the tourism industry for years. Photo Credit: Ross Couper
The travel industry, both in South Africa and across the world, has welcomed the decisive action by the government to put an end to this practice.
Colin Bell, co-founder of Natural Selection, explained that one needs to put the environment minister's momentous decision into perspective of where South Africa has been these past 15 years where this type of exploitative activity had grown to become "normal" and mainstream.
"Cruel exploitative activities like lion interactions, canned lion hunts and lion bone trading are soon to become illegal and become buried in our past thanks to the government and the minister's momentous U-turn with the full backing of Cabinet," Bell said. "This is a massive change for the better in terms of where South Africa was and certainly puts South Africa firmly on the path of becoming a vastly more authentic and nurturing wildlife destination for the greater tourism market."
Giltedge Africa CEO Murray Gardiner said, "We are thrilled at this announcement, and the response that we have personally received from agents and clients echoes that.
"The pandemic has made sustainability more important, and by changing these regulations, South Africa is positioning itself at the helm of conservation," Murray added. "It shows the world that we care about our wildlife tremendously and I think will encourage travel to South Africa."
Marcelo Novais, North America general manager for Ker & Downey Africa, noted the South Africa has a great number of conservation projects across the country and said, "The long-awaited announcement by South African minister Creecy is a big win for the industry and will increase the country's visibility around the globe as a leader in sustainability.
Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, said, "Anytime we can embrace sustainability within tourism it is a great moment of celebration for the destination and for the travelers coming to that destination. Many people in travel have been fighting for this, and to see it come to light now is wonderful news. More and more we are seeing clients choosing brands to purchase travel who have a vested, committed and continued plan toward sustainability."
Banda added that a country can't go halfway with sustainability. "You are either a sustainable country or not, and for South Africa this is a wonderful achievement for wildlife conservation," he said. "This is also a fulfilling and an exciting moment for travel brands, such as African Travel, which has always sold experiences to our guests that embrace our sustainable goals. As a partner with [The Travel Corporation] and TreadRight, making travel matter is at the core of what we do."
Mantis Collection CEO Paul Gardiner pointed out that today's travelers are more aware than ever of their impact on the environment and this plays a significant role in the way they plan and book travel.
"This new step highlights South Africa's commitment to meaningful change and to make an impact for conservation and ecotourism," he said.
The government's stance on captive lion breeding will help build South Africa's brand, industry leaders agree.
"South Africa has had a thriving conservation-based tourism industry for many years," said Nicole Robinson, andBeyond's chief marketing officer. "Conversely, practices in the captive lion breeding industry are widely condemned as cruel and unnecessary. These two ideas don't live well together, especially in the minds of would-be travelers. We believe that eliminating this incongruence will help build brand-South Africa worldwide."
Tarnishing South Africa's image
David Frost, CEO of Satsa -- the voice of South Africa's inbound tourism sector -- said Satsa data started to show that the perception that tourist attractions offering animal interactions are unethical can tarnish the international reputation of South Africa and severely impact on the tourism industry. "If not addressed, we would need to spend extra effort and resources to simply maintain South Africa's reputation and tourism brand in international markets."
Singita's sustainability coordinator, Andrea Ferry, agreed and said South Africa has moved the line in the sand toward a more ethical and sustainability-oriented approach to its. "unique selling point: wildlife."
"This will no doubt grow the goodwill of potential visitors to our country," she added.
"There is no doubt that the poor publicity from these destructive, exploitative practices have contributed negatively to the tourism arrivals to the country," Bell said. "It is quite remarkable how such a terribly damaging industry that benefits such a small number of people (probably no more than 60 or so individuals), that provides so little value for South Africa has been allowed to survive and even thrive for so long.
"In a post-Covid world, where more and more tourists are looking for the open spaces and being away from the traditional, more crowded destinations, countries that can offer a true, more authentic, experiential, exciting and varied holiday stand to benefit from this past year of restrictions and lockdowns. South Africa and indeed the whole of Southern Africa stands to benefit now that this gruesome industry is destined for the scrapheap."