Africa Travel Week

Keep it Wild! Africa Travel Week speaks to Dr Louise de Waal, Blood Lions Campaign Manager

The Blood Lions team has a lot to celebrate following the recent release of a new high-level panel report by Environmental Affairs Minister Barbra Creecy. This new report reviews policies and regulations in relation to captive breeding, as well as handling and human interaction with lions and other animals – a goal that the Blood Lions team have been chasing for many, many years now.

Africa Travel Week sat down with the Blood Lions Campaign Manager, Dr Louise de Waal to chat about this incredible victory and what she believes the future holds for the industry.

“It still doesn’t feel quite real somehow. The entire team, spread out all over the country, has been waiting on this announcement for some time – and there wasn’t a dry eye among us when the report was finally released,” says de Waal.

While the excitement is palpable, Dr de Waal reminds us that this is just the starting point of a long journey ahead. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.

“It’s just a starting point – but it’s a great starting point, and we are thrilled that Minister Creecy has taken such a bold, decisive step. It indicates a massive shift in political behaviour around these topics. I’m nervous about what the road ahead will look like, but I’m feeling positive overall, and our team cannot praise the minister enough,” she says.

The Blood Lions’ role in the high-level panel report

The Blood Lions organisation played a critical role in the creation of the report and its contents. The team sent through a three-part submission that focussed on animal welfare, loopholes in existing policies and, most importantly, zoonotic diseases. The emphasis on zoonotic diseases was especially apt considering the fact that the investigations surrounding the report were being conducted in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“We did a literature study and looked at existing studies that examined lions, both in the wild and in captivity, and the pathogens associated with these animals. We identified 63 different pathogens associated with lions and identified 83 diseases and clinical symptoms likely to affect them. Of those 83 diseases, around 20 also had the potential to affect human beings. Unsurprisingly, considering the times, the high-level panel identified these findings as a major issue and agreed that the topic required further examination in much more detail,” explains de Waal.

“The bottom line is that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that poor animal welfare, which is commonplace in captivity, leads to both the emergence of new diseases and the quicker spread of existing ones.”

Along with influencing the contents of the high-level panel report, the submission has since been published as a peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal.

What does the future hold?

According to de Waal, it is too early to tell what the timeline is going to be in terms of making changes to the captive breeding industry.

“We are in a vacuum at the moment and can only contemplate what a potential phase-out plan could look like. I believe it’s necessary to begin with a thorough, independent audit of the industry so that we have a better idea of where the captive breeding facilities are, what species and how many animals are being held in captivity there, and what the general health conditions are like. Once we have this knowledge, we can start planning and examining which animals can be saved and released into the wild and which ones will need to be humanely euthanised,” says de Waal.

While it is the Blood Lions’ objective to put an end to the captive breeding industry in its entirety, especially considering that the vast majority of these animals are bred for commercial purposes rather than conservation purposes, de Waal does acknowledge that it might also be a case of these establishments transforming their business models to start off with. Ultimately, they will need to become more ethical, improve animal welfare conditions, and stop all interactions with humans.

“There are lots of possibilities, but we need to know what we are working with first. Only time will tell.”

South Africa leading the way

Thanks to the bold decisions made by the Department of Environmental Affairs, it is likely that South Africa will step forward as a country leading the way towards change and putting the spotlight on these unethical practices.

There has been a big shift amongst travellers from far and wide to start focusing on travelling more ethically and sustainably, and these travellers are looking to support destinations that prioritise this approach to travel.

“Globally, people are moving away from animal interactions. However, there is still a lack of education and awareness in this regard. Social media has a role to play in this regard, as does fraudulent marketing messaging on behalf of these captive breeding establishments,” de Waal explains.

As such, many people fail to realise that seemingly harmless interactions, such as feeding and petting lions and cubs, is an example of animal exploitation. The good news is that the tourism industry can work towards increasing awareness and understanding amongst travellers.

“Agents and tour operators must refer to the SATSA animal interaction guidelines, which are home-grown, well-researched, comprehensive, and user-friendly. Most importantly, they mustn’t simply tell guests which activities they cannot engage in, but also explain why they are considered unacceptable, and what the implications would be of such interactions.”

Keep it wild!

Dr de Waal’s final message to the tourism industry is to remind everyone that South Africa has some of the most amazing landscapes in the world. The country is home to many game reserves and national parks – countless places to send tourists where they can appreciate African wildlife in its natural habitat.

“It might not be a hands-on experience, but it’s still possible to see these wonderful animals up close. Let’s start selling meaningful African experiences and eco-tourism. Keep it authentic. Keep it wild!” she concludes.

To watch the interview with Dr Louise de Waal, click here

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.