I was made aware of Beth’s story when in discussion with a fellow guest at this year’s Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Awards in London last week. From the brief story I heard, I knew I had to find out more about her eye-opening campaign and short film on the cub petting industry, so got in touch with Beth myself. Here’s what she had to say…
C: How would you describe Claws Out?
B: Claws Out began as an awareness blog and soon snowballed into a full time role as a Campaign Manager for IAPWA (International Aid for the Protection & Welfare of Animals). The entire entity stemmed from my experience as a volunteer in 2015, hand rearing lion cubs after being led to believe that I was contributing towards conservation. It’s now the charity’s only lion welfare campaign, raising awareness about the plight of lions in South Africa and, in particular, the journey of exploitation from birth until death. In South Africa there are an estimated 8,000 big cats in captivity – bred excessively for tourist interactions and once too large and dangerous for handling, they are sold into canned hunting* and their bones shipped to Asia for use in traditional medicines. It’s a cruel life cycle, reducing the King of the Jungle to nothing but a commodity.
C: When did you first realise something wasn’t right at the sanctuary?
B: Within the first couple of days there were some red flags but mainly concerning the welfare of the cubs. We were instructed to put 5 large cubs into a small crate overnight as they had outgrown their enclosure. They had no access to food or water and were not let out to toilet from 5pm-8am everyday. It was heartbreaking to let them out in the morning, covered in urine and desperate for water. This prompted me to dig deeper online and I soon found other volunteers and charities speaking out against the park I was volunteering at, so it wasn’t long before I found out the truth.
C: Is the sanctuary you first visited still in operation?
B: Unfortunately yes. There are around 300 lion breeding facilities in South Africa and it’s estimated that 100 of these offer interactions to the public so it’s a hugely widespread issue. The park I visited is one of many that are exploiting lion cubs for profit, under the guise of “conservation” and “education” when really, it’s solely for profit.
C: Is there such a thing as a safe sanctuary people can volunteer at?
B: Yes there are safe sanctuaries that people can visit, however true conservation efforts won’t allow hands on interactions with animals, which naturally appeals less to the public. Some true sanctuaries in South Africa include Shamwari, LionsRock, Drakenstein Lion Park and Global White Lion Protection Trust. There’s also a really great volunteering directory that people can use to find ethical options all over the world – www.workingabroad.com.
C: What message would you like to get across to people who may be looking to volunteer at similar sanctuaries?
B: Absolutely steer clear of anywhere that allows hands on interactions with predators. It’s really as simple as that. There are a multitude of lies being told about how interactions benefit cubs and how they’ve been orphaned, rejected etc etc but trust me, it’s all lies. There is absolutely no benefit to hand rearing cubs and doing so means that they can never be released into the wild and survive on their own. The cubs may seem irresistible and having a selfie on Instagram will bring in some extra likes, but bear in mind that the lion you want to cuddle has been taken from it’s mother and is being bred to be shot, by cuddling the cubs tourists are only fuelling this. Do as much research as you can and always feel free to ask charities or individuals like myself for help.
C: How can people help bring a stop to this cruel industry?
B: Raising awareness is fundamental to stopping this industry. The more people that find out the truth about cub petting, the less people there will be visiting such facilities. We need to send a clear message to South Africa that their exploitation of such an iconic animal is absolutely abysmal and we won’t stand for it any longer.
In partnership with the International Aid for the Protection & Welfare of Animals (IAPWA), Beth is working hard to raise £3,000 to roll out an education programme across the UK to teach people about the dangers of cub petting in South Africa. To donate, big or small, click here.
You can catch Beth’s incredibly important film, Claws Out, here https://iapwa.org/our-work/wildlife/lions/
*Canned hunting is an extreme form of trophy hunting in which the animals are released into a caged enclosure for hunters to shoot and kill without giving the animals the opportunity to escape.