I was tossing two or three projects around in my mind, but couldn’t decide which to visit first, then one day ‘Cuddle Me ~ Kill Me’ the book by Richard Peirce happened to pop up on my Facebook page, a signed copy, I ordered it.

The book starts by telling the story of Oliver and Obi, unwittingly raised by volunteers believing they are doing a good thing, hand raising ‘orphan cubs’.

The story unfolds, the two cubs, along with many others, including black leopards and tigers, first come into the ‘cub cuddling’ arena of tourism, handled by tourists looking to get amazing once in a lifetime photo’s with these precious babies, the poor little mites are used as cuddly toys and photo props for hours a day and when they get too big for that, they enter into the next phase of the tourism industry, ‘walking with lions’ taken out on ‘staged’ walks, again for tourists to have an amazing experience and photo opportunity.

There are two ladies involved in the story, one employed, somewhat naively and deceitfully to run the facility and take responsibility for ‘growing’ the cubs who are taken away from their mummy’s within hours of their birth, under the guise of mum ‘rejecting’ her cubs, the other lady was a volunteer, paying for the opportunity to help these little ‘orphans’.

As Obi and Oliver grew (and not without health issues, due to being taken so soon after birth) the day came when they had outgrown the tourism industry and they had to leave home, which came as a complete surprise to the ladies, it was explained that actually, the cubs were to be returned to the breeding farm where they had been born and that was the start of an AMAZING journey, for both the lions and the ladies.

Obi and Oliver returned to their original home, the ladies had a particularly special bond with these two little boys and vowed to visit them, and when they did the horror began.

When they eventually found the pen the boys were in Oliver soon came to them, Obi wasn’t doing so well, they called and they called and eventually he managed to get to his feet and stagger towards them, I was choking back the tears as I was reading the story on the bus to work, I can’t imagine how it was for these ladies, who had fought to keep the boys alive and well in their early years.

They vowed to come back for the boys, not only because of the grief they felt over what had become of them, but because they also learned what the future held for these boys they loved so dearly.

Oliver is a white lion and was still in reasonable condition, his future was likely to become a trophy in a canned hunt, there is actually sick people who will pay big bucks to ‘hunt’ these magnificent animals in an enclosed space and take their bodies home, stuffed for their pleasure.

Poor Obi was in a terrible condition, his future, the lion bone trade ~ yes ~ that’s really a thing, lion bones are being exported to Asia, due to the lack of tiger bones available, the lawful quota has risen this year from 800 skeletons to FIFTEEN HUNDRED.

The ladies vowed to the lions that they would come back for them and they kept their promise.

I will simplify the story to say that the ladies bought a farm, raised funds and made a sanctuary, not only for Oliver and Obi, but for the other cat’s that they had raised and were able to track down in other horrific facilities, sadly, they didn’t get there in time to save all and there is a memorial to Shani, a lioness whose life was lost to the bone trade.

I devoured the book in a couple of bus journeys, as it went on to tell all about the lion farming industry in South Africa, an horrific industry and one which we fight to close down.

The end of the book is where my ‘Favourite Wildlife Moment’ comes in, I find that you can volunteer at Obi and Oliver’s safe and secure forever home which became ‘Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary’, in that moment, my mind was made up, my flights and two weeks volunteering was booked, I was off to meet these survivors and their saviour’s, now magnificent ambassadors of their species, along with other lions, tigers, caracals and leopards living in tranquility, a hands off home where they can ‘just be’ ~ sadly not wild, but the next best thing, with their every need taken care of, it was a very spiritual experience and one I would recommend, I can only applaud the ladies and their AMAZING cat’s.

About the Entry

Debbie Groom

New to wildlife volunteering at the tender age of 50, traveling alone I have just completed my second project & looking forward to many more, with many species, all around the world. I have also decided to take on the massive task of putting together a day of conservation ~ #teamearth ~ a day of raising awareness for animals both here in the UK & around the world

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