The truth behind my lion selfie | by Jess Murray

As I apprehensively shuffled into the cage, my gut clenched and my heart stopped…I immediately knew that I was in a bad place, and I desperately wanted to run straight back out. But something stronger told me to carry on, and that by enduring the next hour in this awful place I could find hope to make a positive change to the hell that I currently found myself encased in.

After an hour of experiencing the heartbreaking pain of filming undercover, I spent the next hour crying at what I had seen, both angry and upset. And that’s when I decided that I could try my absolute hardest to turn my experience into a huge positive, and came up with this experiment.

Within minutes of uploading a lion selfie on Facebook, likes and comments immediately began to pour in, as I predicted they would. Everyone loves to see a cute lion selfie.

After signing the guestbook with fake names, our presenter and I trailed into the self-proclaimed “eco-park”, nervously pondering what we were about to encounter. I played the part of English tourist, pretending it was my first time in Africa.

One of the enclosures that I was taken into contained three lion cubs. At merely three weeks old we were told that they had been taken away from their mother who was in another enclosure, so the cubs were given “lion milk formula”. The sad thing is that the guide answered absolutely every question that I put to him, without thinking that anything was wrong with this situation, knowing that every single person who pets these poor cubs is making them more accustomed to humans, therefore losing their natural fear of people.

Sadly, there are many places in South Africa just like this one – they claim to be a good place for animals, which thousands of tourists believe. They make millions by attracting tourists from all over the world to see, hold, and interact with ‘wild animals’. There are currently only about 2,000 lions left in the wild in South Africa whilst there are over 8,000 currently in captivity.

While you see a cute lion, happy to be involved in the selfie culture of today, this cub’s future is actually headed for the canned hunting industry. So as you dream about stroking, holding and taking your own selfies with lions, you are contributing to a multi-million dollar industry which results in a bullet lodged in this lion’s brain – to put it straight to you. (Sorry)

If you are not familiar with the term ‘canned hunting’, let’s use the example of the lion in my selfie, and let’s call him Leo.

When Leo reaches an age when he is too big to cuddle he will be taken on walks with tourists who pay big bucks for that ‘privilege’. When Leo reaches two years old he will be too big/dangerous to interact with people, although he is now very comfortable with the idea of people, after interacting with hundreds every week.

Leo will then be left in an enclosure until he reaches his prime – therefore looking his most impressive – at about six years old, and a canned hunter will travel to South Africa, pay around $38,000, and point his gun at Leo whilst sitting in the safety of a vehicle, accompanied by guides to protect him.

Meat will even be put out for Leo so that the hunter will know exactly where he will be. And as Leo has been around people since he was taken from his mother at two weeks old, he has no reason to fear the hunter.
Now that the bullet is lodged in Leo’s brain, let’s take a selfie…what a brave ‘hunter’. What is the skill in pulling a trigger on a target you know will stay within the few square metres that you have set it up to be in?

So that’s the brutal and honest truth.

And while you may venture to these places and think that they are doing good for conservation due to the sheer volume of animals held in these places, know that these animals are suffering greatly – both physically from malnutrition and poor living conditions, and mentally after being taken from their mothers at such a young age.

The horrors that I saw whilst filming undercover included hyenas in cages with lions “to see if they will be friends”, an attempted attack by an older tiger cub who I was told was “just playing”, and three week old lion cubs with chunks of their fur missing. Is this conservation? Is this right?

All I ask is that you share this message so that our children can grow up knowing the beauty of the natural and rightful King of the jungle.

About the Entry

Jess Murray

I am a wildlife conservationist spreading awareness about nature and the animal kingdom through education and storytelling. I have lived in Africa for two years, qualifying as a field guide and working with anti-poaching units. I now work for WWF, leading on digital communications for the illegal wildlife trade, as well as oceans and plastic. I love to help people fall in love with nature through my photography and writing, as well as helping people to understand the true importance of protecting our planet.

You can read our bloggers’ full profiles on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

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