5 Things You Didn’t Know About Petting Lion Cubs

I’ll be the first to admit that I made a mistake. I happily went to the Lion Safari Park, petted some lion cubs (albeit from a distance as I was a tiny bit scared of them), took some pictures and then never gave it much more thought. So why is this a mistake you ask? Well, I’ll delve deeper into that in a bit but I do want to give some background context first.

I am a self-proclaimed animal lover. Currently, my lifestyle does not allow me to have any pets but I really love animals and would never intentionally harm them. So then why did I get trapped into thinking petting lion cubs is ok? Well, like most people, I fell into the trap of thinking more about a cute photo with adorable baby lions instead of understanding the repercussions.

I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a very long time but I’ve always felt like I didn’t know enough to discuss the topic in great detail. But the more I see my Facebook friends posting pictures of petting lion cubs, the more I realise that education is key to highlighting that it is wrong. And with that, I’ll digress into the reasons why lion cub petting needs to be stopped.

petting lion cubs south africa

5 Things You Need To Know About Petting Lion Cubs In South Africa

1. The Lion Cubs Are Not Orphaned

I was told that the ‘orphaned’ lion cubs did not have mothers. This could be true for some lion cubs but certainly not all. Breeders snatch away the lion cubs from their mothers after a few hours of being born. In the wild, the lion cubs stay with their mothers for almost 2 years after being born. Female lions only give birth to one litter every three years but in captivity, they have 2-3 litters in one year.

The mothers are under immense stress from being separated from their young, reproduce more often and doomed to tiring lives with never-ending breeding. By removing lion cubs from their mothers, this ensures that they will reproduce at a faster rate which is beneficial for the ‘sanctuaries’. A constant supply of lion cubs equates to more profit because of the huge demand for lion cub petting in South Africa.

petting lion cubs south africa

2. Petting Lion Cubs Does Not Equate To Conservation

These so-called sanctuaries are operating under the false pretence of lion conservation. They claim that the lion cubs will be released back into the wild once they become too dangerous for lion petting tourists. But do we really think that the lion cubs who were:

a) Separated from their mothers and

b) were hand-reared by humans

would be suited to survive in the wild?

These cubs are stripped of their ability to hunt in the wild and be part of a natural social group. They have also become accustomed to human interaction and have lost all fear of humans. They will not survive in the wild. Since rehabilitating the cubs is not a viable option, we need to ask, where do the lions actually go?

petting lion cubs south africa

3. Bred For The Bullet

Canned hunting farms buy lions from cub petting sanctuaries. If you are unfamiliar with the term canned hunting, it means that the target animal is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter. It is a trophy hunt whereby a fence encloses the captive-bred animal. Everyday 2-3 lions are shot and killed due to canned hunting in South Africa. High-paying tourists will pay anything between USD $25 000 – $50 000 to hunt a captive-bred lion.

Some lions are also killed off for the bone trade.  Traditional medicines use the lion bones from South Africa exported to Asia. Traditional medicines use lion bones as alternatives to tigers bones. The traditional medicine has no scientifically proven benefits.

In other words, we pet these cubs under the illusion that we are part of a greater conservation project but in reality, these cute cubs we’re petting will die from canned hunting. Canned hunting is not illegal in South Africa but that does not make it ok. By petting these lion cubs, we add fuel to the fire and in return are supporting these businesses who prefer cash over conservation.

petting lion cubs south africa

4. Appalling Living Conditions

When they aren’t being used as photo props, the lion cubs live in tiny cages. These lion cubs hardly have any food or water and little hygiene. Naturally playful and energetic, the cubs are beaten into submission so that they will behave for the tourists. These cubs are not allowed to express their natural behaviours.

petting lion cubs south africa

5. Volunteer Trap

Thousands of overseas volunteers pay huge amounts of money to the wildlife sanctuaries to look after lion cubs. Lies told to volunteers include “the mothers abandoned the cubs”. They genuinely believe that their volunteer experiences are part of rehabilitating the cub to eventually live in the wild. The sanctuaries also propagate lies that they help the dwindling population of lions by breeding them in bulk.

There is no conservation benefit from breeding these lions as they will never be introduced back into the wild. Sanctuaries breed the lion to be shot and killed by hunters. The volunteers have not been made aware of what happens to lions after they are too big to be used as props for photos.

petting lion cubs in south africa

Tips On How Can We All Help?

  • It’s important to do thorough research of the sanctuaries we are visiting and supporting. Don’t take everything at face value but instead dig deeper. Find news articles and check out the following website for more information.
  • Watch the Blood Lions documentary which provides in-depth information about the canned hunting industry. It was extremely emotional for me to watch the documentary as they do show a lot of graphic footage and imagery. However, this is the dark secret that South Africa is hiding and awareness is important.
  • Do not support, volunteer or visit sanctuaries that offer lion cub petting. They are not looking out for the well-being of their animals. Profit drives these sanctuaries. If you truly love animals, then avoid these places at all costs.
  • Understand that any sanctuary that breeds and/or trades lions is not actually a sanctuary. A genuine sanctuary for lions will not breed nor will it allow you to interact with the cats in any way.
  • If you see your friends posting pictures with lion cubs on social media, do not publicly humiliate and insult them. There is a high chance that they weren’t aware of the repercussions of their actions. It’s better to educate others with facts and reason. This will be the best way to make sure others agree with your cause.
  • Write to SA government officials to ban lion farming.
  • Spread articles around this issue with your friends and family.




  1. Reply

    Elizabeth Peters

    September 5, 2018

    OMG. These lions are so cute! Loved this post.

    • Reply


      September 5, 2018

      They are the cutest! Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Reply


    August 13, 2018

    wow this is super informative! thanks for sharing

    • Reply


      August 14, 2018

      Happy that it was informative for you!

  3. Reply


    August 13, 2018

    This is such important information. I didn’t realise how much an issue petting the lion cubs in fact is. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply


      August 13, 2018

      You’re welcome. Glad it was informative for you 🙂

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