Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tourists lured to South Africa to take part in trophy hunts

By: Joanna Della-Ragione

THE lion cub in my arms is just two months old. His dappled yellow fur is cotton-wool soft and his long lashed eyes glow gold. He is calendar-cute, picture perfect, but when he scrambles out of my arms razor-sharp claws scrape my skin and I'm jolted back to reality, reminded that he's a wild animal. That I'm able to cradle him at all is paradoxical.

This isn't nature or the expansive wilderness of the Kruger National Park - if it were the pride would have torn me limb from limb by now - rather I'm standing in a large cage, home to eight cubs including two baby tigers and two white lions who playfully nip my ankles. The pungent scent of cat urine rising from the dusty ground permeates the air.

I've driven three hours from Johannesburg across vast expanses of bleak farmland which constitute South Africa's Orange Free State, down a nausea-inducing dirt track to the Moreson Ranch, which markets itself as a "holiday and game farm" where rich hunters both amateur and professional come to shoot animals for sport. It is just one of many lionbreeding farms in South Africa where tourists can pay a mere 50 rand (about $5.80) to cuddle a cub.

What the tourists aren't told is that these cubs have been snatched from their mothers at just an hour old and come adulthood they're likely to die at the hands of wealthy trophy hunters, just like the rest of the 5,000 captive bred lions in South Africa.