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Note from Ranulph Fiennes about Lions in Africa, dinner 18 Jan in London

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The following was sent by Ranulph Fiennes, who has no connection with, but I thought it might be interesting:

(update: also do read the critiques on these programs in the posts below!)

"Dear Friends,

Following my visit to Zimbabwe in September with Louise, Alexander 
and Elizabeth (aged 16 months), we were amazed to find the image 
portrayed by the UK press was very different to the reality that we 
experienced in many parts of the country.

We had an amazing time during our stay, being involved with the 
African Lion project run by an organization called ALERT (African 
Lion Environmental Research Trust ).

We were shocked to find out that in only the last 30 years the lion 
population in the whole of Africa has diminished from some 200,000 to 
only 16,000 despite numerous habitat conservation projects already in 

Since its inception at Antelope Park, Gweru, ALERT , through careful 
genetic work and breeding strategies  has been able to successfully 
create a family pride and a 4 stage release programme to help 
steadily increase the number of lions into areas carefully protected 
from poachers.

To this end, with assistance from the Royal Geographical Society in 
London, I have offered my 'Living Dangerously' lecture, combined with 
a presentation by ALERT on their brilliant work, at our fundraising 
evening and dinner on the 18th of January 2008.

I would, therefore, urge any of you with the slightest interest in 
having 'THE KING OF THE BEASTS' alive and prospering for 
generations to come (instead of becoming another entry on the extinct 
list), to attend what will be a memorable and enlightening evening.

To purchase tickets, call Claire Timlett on 0207-287-4261 or send an 
email to .

In the meantime, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and New Year and 
look forward to seeing you on the 18th January 2008.
Kind Regards and apologies for sending this to you as an impersonal circular.

Ran Fiennes

P.S. If that date is difficult for you, but you do however feel you 
would like to help to save the african lion from extinction, 
donations can be made by sending a cheque made out to ALERT to me, at 
the Greenlands office, or direct, by bank transfer, to the details on 
the website

Some more details, this is your chance to chat with one of the living famous explorers!

“An Audience with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and ALERT”

-   Your chance to hear and question Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his Living Dangerously lecture and learn about the plight of the endangered African lion –

On Friday 18th January 2008 “An Audience with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and ALERT” will provide people with an exclusive opportunity to hear and question Sir Ranulph on his worldwide adventures. As well as discussing quests such as searching for lost cities and being the first man to visit both the poles by land, Fiennes will also be discussing his work as patron to the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust, ALERT.

ALERT is a non-profit organisation that helps in the release of rehabilitated African lions back into the wild. Based in Zimbabwe, this organisation strives to ensure the future of the “King of Beasts” as shockingly, the African Lion is close to being on the endangered species list. In less than 30 years, there has been an 80-90% population decline of the African lion, with no sign of this decrease slowing down in the near future.

“The evidence is too great to deny that action must be taken now to ensure the future of the African lion,” comments David Youldon, ALERT Chief Operating Officer.

The event will take place at The Royal Geographical Society, from 7.00pm onwards. Guests have the choice of purchasing two types of ticket to this event:

Lecture Ticket – Lecture access only - £25
VIP Dinner Ticket – including drinks reception, priority lecture seats and auction dinner - £150

If you wish to purchase tickets, please call Georgia Hill-Stewart on 0207 287 4655 or send an email to

-   ENDS –

About ALERT: The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is a non-profit organisation working with governments, wildlife authorities and private organisations to identify suitable release sites for African lions. ALERT will also provide infrastructure to those sites to facilitate the release and to protect local communities. It was founded in 2005 to support the work of the African Encounter Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Programme.

For more information on ALERT, please visit

I thought people interested in the above should read the following statement from some of Africa's leading lion researchers on this project.  For more information contact me directly:-

Fundis comment on the Proposed “Walking with Lions” Project
24 August 2006

Members of the international scientific community voice their serious concerns and strong opposition to the “Walking with Lions” tourist attraction currently being proposed by African Encounters and Safari par Excellence in Zambia. “Walking with Lions” is a purely commercial enterprise. The purported conservation value of a captive breeding and release program for lions has not been demonstrated. Indeed, many aspects of the proposed program appear ill conceived.

For example, hand rearing of lion cubs will ensure that these animals are imprinted to humans, and that they will thereafter lack natural avoidance behaviors. Teaching hand reared cubs to hunt as sub-adults will not decrease their dependence on humans, nor will it alter their imprinted behaviors. Indeed, semi-tame lions may be as dangerous as wild lions. Recently (August, 2006) in South Africa, three 2½ year-old lions escaped from a game farm and killed two workers. The lions were obtained as cubs and raised by hand. In Tanzania, wild lions kill nearly one hundred people each year, the majority of them villagers. Alteration of lion behavior through captive breeding, hand rearing, and release of semi-tame animals or their habituated offspring is both dangerous and irresponsible when considering the safety and welfare of humans and their livestock in Zambia.

“Walking with Lions” will require a constant supply of cubs. The possibility that this program would result in overbreeding of lions and subsequent development of a canned hunting industry in Zambia, or trade in surplus lions to canned hunting interests in other countries cannot be ignored. Fair hunting practices of wild lions are paramount to Zambia’s commercial hunting industry. For Zambia to associate itself in any way – either real or perceived – with canned hunting of lions could have far-reaching negative impacts on this industry. Currently, Zambia is moving towards ensuring the long-term protection and survival of its lion populations by supporting field research that examines distribution and abundance of lions countrywide, and a genetic assessment of lion subpopulations. It is also actively seeking to establish sustainable quotas through development and implementation of an age-based trophy selection program.

The claim that releasing captive bred lions into national parks and wild areas will serve any conservation purpose by augmenting lion numbers is wholly unsubstantiated. Further, it fails to take into account the genetic structure of lion subpopulations in Zambia. Far from proving advantageous, the released animals may, in fact, introduce deleterious genes or diseases into Zambia’s established wild lion populations, or otherwise alter the local adaptations of the naturally occurring genetic stocks.

Given reasonable protection from excessive mortality and sufficient food resources (e.g., game species), wild lions have the capacity to naturally repopulate a depleted area. In addition to conserving local genetic adaptations, the advantages of natural recovery versus introductions include greater stability to pride structure and movements, and greater predictability as to distance and direction of dispersers. Moreover, a naturally recovering predator population will exist at a density that is appropriate for both game populations and available habitat, thereby reducing the risk of conflict with humans and livestock.

It is emphasized here that “Walking with Lions” has no conservation value. If African Encounters and Safari par Excellence’s desire to assist with conservation of African lions is sincere, they will devote themselves to supporting established programs and organizations that are working towards the restoration and protection of Zambia’s wild lands and animals, and seek to educate their clientele in a similarly responsible fashion.

Dr. Paula A. White, Director, Zambia Lion Project
Center for Tropical Research, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Dr. Craig Packer, Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior
University of Minnesota, USA

Dr. Luke Hunter, Director, Great Cats Program
Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA

And another recent additional statement, by one of Africa's leading lion experts (posted with his permission):

1 - ‘Rehabilitated’ captive-bred lions can only be released into relatively small areas, such as properly fenced-off game farms and private nature reserves. In such case, invasive management will always be necessary, such as removing of the breeding males to prevent inbreeding, replacing them with younger, non-related males, which are fully adapted to that specific ecosystem.

2 - In such case the older males will have to be placed elsewhere – and where will that be? I’m of opinion that such males will have to be hunted for trophy purposes, such as was the case in Pilansberg. Trophy hunting, if scientifically managed, is not a negative, though it will always be controversial.

3 - Rehabilitated lions do not have natural fear or respect for humans, and, as was the case with the Born-Free lions of George and Joy Adamson, they will become man-eaters. Few people are aware of this, and I’ve always wondered of this fact remains untold because it may suit some people’s philosophies. Such lions also become livestock raiders.

4 - There are no vacuums left in Africa where free-ranging lions can be reintroduced. Human encroachment will have to be controlled, and to achieve that, we will have to convince African governments to cooperate – please refer to the Regional Lion Strategies of IUCN.

The Alert Project has no conservation value at all. Wild, free-ranging lion populations cannot be saved from extinction through this method. We should rather spend our money and expertise to find ways of protecting existing wild lion populations.

Dr Sarel van der Merwe
Chair: African Lion Working Group
Associated with the Cat and Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of IUCN/SSC

African lion encounters: a bloody con

By Chris Haslam
From The Sunday Times
February 10, 2008

Chris Haslam reveals the gruesome truth behind big-cat conservation projects that are championed by British tour operators

It’s the latest attraction for tourists visiting southern Africa, but conservationists are warning that walking with lions is – quite literally – a bloody con.

Dozens of private game parks across South Africa and Zimbabwe offer, or have offered, tourists the opportunity to walk with, handle and be photographed with lion cubs.

Excursions to some, such as the Aquila Private Game Reserve, outside Cape Town, and the Seaview Game and Lion Park, in Port Elizabeth, are offered by tour operators such as Kuoni, Virgin Holidays and the Holland America cruise line.

Antelope Park, in Zimbabwe, charges about £20 for a 90-minute lion encounter it describes as “not just a very privileged photo opportunity, [but] the chance for you to become a conservationist”. The park’s African Lion Environmental Research Trust (Alert) programme is enthusiastically supported by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who, on his website, praises its efforts “to help steadily increase the number of lions into areas carefully protected from poachers”.

The Sunday Times, however, has learnt that, far from being released into the wild, as many as 59 lion cubs raised at Antelope Park have been sold to big-game-hunting operations to be shot for sport.

So-called “canned hunting”, where rich trophy-hunters pay thousands of pounds to shoot big game in fenced enclosures, is big business in southern Africa. The price of shooting a lion bred in captivity ranges from about £9,000 to £16,000, and the breeders who supply the trade are struggling to keep up with demand.

While some estimates suggest that there are less than 20,000 wild lions remaining in Africa, the International Fund for Animal Welfare reports that another 3,000 languish in captivity, bred as targets for trophy-hunters. But breeders have found a lucrative sideline to the bloody business of feeding canned hunts. By removing cubs from mothers after about four days – to induce another breeding cycle – they can rent them out to tourist parks to participate in lion-walking attractions.

Tourists and the gap-year students employed as guides – many of whom have paid up to £2,000 for conservation placements with agencies such as Real Gap and All Africa Volunteers – are told that the lion cubs are being raised for release in the wild, but big-cat expert Dr Sarel van der Merwe, of the African Lion Working Group, says this is impossible.

“Captive-bred lions can be released only into relatively small areas, such as fenced-off game farms and private nature reserves. Invasive management will always be necessary, such as removing the breeding males to prevent inbreeding,” he says. “In such cases, the older males will have to be placed elsewhere – and where will that be? I’m of the opinion that such males will have to be hunted for trophy purposes.”

In fact, there’s not much else you can do with a hand-reared lion. “Hand-rearing of lion cubs will ensure that these animals are imprinted to humans, and that they will thereafter lack natural avoidance behaviours,” warns Dr Luke Hunter of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Put another way, captive-bred, hand-reared lions have the potential to become man-eaters, and thus can never be allowed to roam free.

Daniel Turner, of the animal-welfare group the Born Free Foundation, says that captive-bred lion cubs often have their teeth and claws removed, and are drugged before meeting tourists. “These animals are bred entirely for entertainment and derive no benefit whatsoever from these operations,” he said. “We urge people not to participate in any form of interaction with lions or other big cats.”

Neither the Alert programme nor Sir Ranulph Fiennes could be reached for comment, but the Aquila game reserve, in South Africa, said that, following complaints from tour operators, it had now ceased offering lion-cub petting. In an e-mail to The Sunday Times, the park said: “We do not have lion cubs at the moment, but we do have cheetahs you could interact with.”

Kuoni said that it works with the Born Free Foundation to ensure that the excursions it offered were ethical, but that it is sometimes impossible to stop customers being offered unapproved products by suppliers. “

Kuoni currently features Aquila as an overnight excursion from Cape Town, as a safari experience,” it added. “Given the allegations regarding cub petting, which is condemned by Born Free, Kuoni has withdrawn Aquila from sale until further notice while investigations are being carried out.”


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