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  • Writer's pictureBeth Jennings

What's the difference between handling a lion cub in South Africa and a tiger cub in the US?

The simple answer? There is no difference.

My campaign, as I'm sure you know by now, is geared towards cub petting within South Africa whereby the cubs will end up in canned hunts, but the term "cub petting" does not apply exclusively to this practice and in fact the problem is a whole lot bigger.

"Cub" can refer to a lion, tiger, hyena, leopard, lynx, cheetah, panther and so many more - which is so important to remember when you hear people like me shouting "DON'T PET CUBS" from the rooftops. We mean ALL cubs. In ANY country.

But why?

There are no known examples of ethical cub petting - perhaps in a zoo whereby the mother has rejected a baby and the staff have no choice but to raise it by hand but then ask yourself - are they qualified? Yes. Are you? No.

The issue arises when photos, whether a zoo or any other scenario, go online for the world to see. What kind of message does that send to the general public? It infers that it's okay to handle cubs, which it isn't. If any one of those people search online "play with lion cubs" you get almost 2,000,000 results in 0.85 seconds - are any of those results an ethical option? No.

Ask yourself when you see a photo of someone handling a cub of any kind - why? Is is purely a photo prop? Is it in a natural habitat? Why isn't it with the mother? Is it even in a country that it's native to? If it doesn't seem right, that's because it's not.

So does cub petting contribute towards conservation? No. Cub petting facilities often claim that the profits go towards conservation, or the cubs were rejected by mothers and will live the rest of their life in a blissful sanctuary once they are too big for petting. It's all lies. In fact, cub petting actually has a largely negative impact on overall conservation and that's not even taking into account the miserable life the poor cat will lead.

How are the cubs treated? More often than not, particularly with big cats as pets in the US, the owners have absolutely no qualifications in animal welfare and do not have the knowledge to raise a cub. It's common sense that they should be with their mothers, but they're not. The cubs are deprived of sleep as they've become simply a toy or a photo prop and are often punished for exhibiting natural behaviours. In terms of overall health, the cubs do not develop their usual immune system due to the lack of nutrients they are getting at a young age - no bottle formula can ever replicate the mother's milk.

What happens when they are too big to pet? Well within South Africa, they're sold to canned hunting to become a trophy and their bones exported to Asia. But anywhere else? Who knows. They cannot be released into the wild so are sometimes killed or simply kept in a tiny backyard cage until they die.

What impact does is actually have on conservation? Hand reared cubs will not be released into the wild, no matter what anyone tells you. They will stay in captivity for their entire life so have absolutely zero impact on numbers in the wild. They are often so inbred that even if they could be released into the wild, they would have a hugely negative effect on the genes of the existing animals. Secondly, the sale of bones/trophies into markets across the world actually creates more demand for the carcasses - why would you pay $50,000 to go and legally trophy hunt when you could hunt a wild cat for free?

There are more captive tigers in the US (in backyards, as pets etc) than there are in the wild. Think about that for a second. There are more tigers being held by people with little to no experience in a country that they're not even native to, than there are in the wild. How depressing. In fact, recent estimates are as high as 7,000.

I really hope this post can help people to see that when someone says "ban cub petting" they mean ban any and all cub interactions. It's not ethical, it's animal cruelty. Don't give the Instagram a like because it's edgy and cool, don't go online and look for how you can do the same, instead spread the word that it's irresponsible and cruel because doing so will make a difference.

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