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  • Writer's pictureBeth Jennings

Unfair Game - Lord Ashcroft

‪Unfair Game is Lord Ashcroft’s investigation and exposé of South Africa’s captive bred lion industry and I’m so proud to have been quoted, detailing my volunteering experience.

I was interviewed in late 2019 by Lord Ashcroft's researcher after they had been made aware of my campaign, and was quoted in the book as follows:

They (farmers) pretend that these lions have conservation value when, by virtue of their captive born status, the opposite is the case. This is how young women such as Beth Jennings from Britain are persuaded into paying to do the breeders' work for them.

"In February 2015, when I was twenty-one, I paid about £1,500 to volunteer for two weeks at Ukutula Lodge in North West Province. This was money I had been given for my 21st birthday. I spent another £1,000 on flights and jabs. It represented all of my savings, but I was passionate about working with animals, o I was delighted when I booked the trip. We would work from nine until five each day. We weren't given any training. Instead, we were given an induction and then a tour of the park and shown what to do. We would either do cub duties or ranger duties. Cub duties would involve us supervising young cubs up to the age of three or four months until the tourists arrived each morning and wanted their photos taken with them, which we would have to oversee. Ranger duties involved us preparing the chickens or collecting a horse carcass from a nearby farmer, which would be fed to the older lions."

Jennings says she is haunted by the mewing noise made by the tiny cubs. Many tourists assume this sound is "cute" or "sweet". Yet Jennings says she soon worked out that it is indicative of nothing but distress, as the animals call through sheer desperation for their mothers. She goes on:

"Within the first couple of days I had some questions about how the lions were treated after we volunteers were told to bash them on the nose if they were misbehaving. We once had to lock five lions in a cage overnight, with no access to food or water, because they were considered too big for their enclosure. It was so cruel. There were probably twenty or thirty-five voluntourists there at one time, so there wasn't even enough work for us to do! Places like Ukutula are making a lot of money out of voluntourism. We were told that the cubs were orphaned or had been rejected by their mother because they were too unruly. But when we were once told to remove a twelve-day-old cub from an enclosure because it was too unruly - a cub whose eyes hadn't even opened fully yet and who howled in anguish, I knew this was nonsense. This cub was removed by us just so that it could be hand-reared and used as a tourist magnet. It was even allowed to sleep in a volunteer's room. After it was removed, a male lion was put into the enclosure with its mother so that he could mate with her."

Jennings adds that parties of school children visited the site during her stay there in order to have a supposedly educational experience, and she remains scathing about this. "I just don't understand what is remotely educational about fifty children passing around a couple of captive-bred lion cubs." she says. "Humans are not meant to be anywhere near lions, which are supposed to be wild creatures. Teaching children fro such a young age that it's OK to handle a lion cub is indefensible. Any parent who is considering letting their child go near a lion cub should never allow it."

I'm so proud to have been involved in the creation of such an amazing and educational book, and was pleasantly surprised to read the following:

Animal lovers who choose to become involved in voluntourism are, quite simply, funding animal haters who have no serious interest in lion welfare. It seems astonishing that in the digital age, when news spreads so quickly, such an atrocious scam has been allowed to thrive. It would be entirely understandable if those who have handed over money felt foolish for having done so. But, having been made aware of the reality, it is surely their duty to tell as many others as possible never to repeat their mistake. To that end, Beth Jennings must be congratulated. Since her own voluntourism experience, she has launched Claws Out, which campaigns to end this practice.

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