Volunteering

It is great if young people are interested wildlife and want to support their conservation. Volunteering abroad can be a good tool to make first experiences. It should be ensured, however, that the participation in such a program really makes a difference and does not support shady facilities that exploit animals and volunteers.

Video: Should we be petting cubs and walking with lions?

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Thus, offers should be carefully researched and questioned in advance. The following information shall help to ask the right questions:

 

Do they claim to breed lions or raise orphaned lion cubs for being released into the wild?

 

Keep in mind that: Very few, if any, of the cubs you pet and cuddle have been “abandoned” or rescued in the wild. Most of them have been produced by captive lions and removed from their mother with only a few days in order to force the mothers into a new reproduction cycle and to exploit the cubs for the volunteering industry. When growing older, the hand-reared, human-imprinted and from inbreeding often genetically contaminated animals cannot be reintroduced into the wild. In fact, there has not been one successful lion reintroduction program using captive bred and reared lions in South Africa so far. Also, South Africa currently has no need for a lion reintroduction program. The lions thus have no conservational value at all and are only used for further revenue streams as being killed for the lion bone trade or in canned hunting. In essence, by volunteering on these facilities you pay the farmers to continue their shady business of raising lions for the bullet.

 

Do they offer any activities based on animal and human interaction?

 

Keep in mind that: Being touched, cuddled or walked by human beings is under no circumstances a natural behavior for lions or any other wild animal. The close habituation to humans reduces their natural timidity and makes them unsuitable for any later release into the wild in most of the cases. There are only a handful of authentic wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa and they do not breed, trade (they mostly receive animals rather than going out to acquire them) or interact with the animals in any way.

 

Do I really get the chance to get a founded and professional insight into their work?

 

Keep in mind that: Again, being in direct human contact of whatever form is no natural behavior for wild animals. If you really want to get a genuine and animal-friendly wildlife adventure go and experience these animals in their natural habitat: the wild! For example, join a conservation or research team, observing animals in freedom and from the distance. In general, the quality and validity of information being given out to visitors on South Africa’s predator farms and facilities is poor. It is also confusing vital conservation messages and priorities. A good indicator is also the amount of volunteers being accepted in a single facility at a time. If there are too many others the facility might rather focus on earning money from you instead of providing sufficient room to get in touch and exchange with experienced experts.

 

If they claim to contribute to species and nature conservation, do they have the necessary capacities and networks to really do so?

 

Keep in mind that: Very few, if any, of the private lion farms and predator breeding facilities in South Africa can be regarded as genuine conservation undertakings as they do not work in conjunction with recognized lion ecologists and scientists or any of the global predator conservation agencies. Most are simply breeding or holding predators for a variety of commercial purposes and making use of volunteers has become one of the most lucrative revenue streams. Some facilities are earning in excess of US$ 100,000 in some months from their volunteer programs alone. Before enrolling as a volunteer or going as a visitor, check the social media sites and blogs for comments and feedback on the particular farm or facility and ask yourself – and the facility! – critical questions on their work and purpose and try to verify their answers on your questions through other sources:

  • If it claims to be a sanctuary, do they offer life-long care for the animals?
  • Where did all the animals come from and where do some of them go?
  • Are they trading in animals?
  • Do the conditions under which the animals are being kept really fit the animal’s needs or is it rather designed for a good visitor experience (e.g. enough shelter and space for animals or do enclosures only ensure a good view on the animals for people)?
  • Who is their recognized predator ecologist or scientist?

 

These operations are taking in significant sums of money – your money! – which in some ways is a misdirection of valuable conservation funding for initiatives that really support species conservation.

 

The following infographic of the organization Wildlife ACT in South Africa (www.wildlifeact.com), illustrates how reputable and dubious volunteering programs affect species conservation as well as the local development and economy.

 

Infographic of Wildlife ACT (1 MB)

 

Video: Wildlife volunteering – conservation or con?

 
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By supporting dubious facilities and activities, either as a day visitor or volunteer, you are not contributing to conservation. Instead, you are party to spreading the misinformation and the horrors some of the world’s most iconic wild species are facing.