Sick truth behind cute tourist picture
Warning: Distressing photos
A TOURIST smiles for the camera, proudly displaying the adorable lion cub snuggled in their arms, with it's mother no where to be seen.
It's a picture you have probably seen pop up on your social media before or maybe one you have posed for yourself.
For many, playing with a lion cub is a once in a lifetime opportunity that is just too enticing to pass up.
You might even be told that the poor creature was rejected by it's mother and by paying to cuddle it you are actually giving it the affection a young cub needs.
You then go home and post online about your amazing experience helping better the life of an orphaned cub, when in reality all that is left for that animal is a life of exploitation, torture and a brutal death.
In South Africa lion breeding farms are an extremely popular tourist attraction. For just a few dollars you can pat, play, cuddle and feed your own cub.
But what many visitors don't realise is these places are not as innocent as they seem. They are a front for a much darker and gruesome operation.
When these cubs grow up and become too old for paying tourists to cuddle they aren't sent off to live out the rest of their days in the wild, like many of these farms would have you believe.
They are shipped off to a different type of tourist attraction but this time people aren't paying to cuddle them, they're paying to put a bullet in them.
Animal welfare group, Four Paws, is one of the organisations working to put an end to the vile captive lion industry. They even have their own sanctuary called LionsRock which is dedicated to rescuing abused lions and other big cats.
There are around 260 farms across South Africa that breed lions purely to satisfy the desires of wealthy hunters, with thousands of tourists travelling to the region every year to kill exotic animals and take home their carcass as a trophy.
The most disturbing form of trophy hunting is "Canned Hunting" where the lion is served up to the hunter on a platter with no chance of escape.
These animals are ripped away from their mothers at just a few days old and hand raised by humans until they are old enough to be slaughtered.
The lions are kept in small fenced areas that they can't escape. Sometimes they are lured in with bait or even tranquillised to make it easier for hunters.
Country Director for Four Paws, Fiona Miles, told news.com.au that tourists who visit these breeding farms often have no idea what really happens to the lions.
"When things like patting and playing with lion cubs are so accessible to the public it becomes an easy and fun option for tourists and families," she said.
"It is quite an unauthentic experience because you are not seeing that animal in any form of natural environment, it's not behaving as it would naturally behave and it's sad to see."
In the wild, lionesses would usually give birth every two years but on these farms they give birth every six months.
These places often rely on tourists and volunteer staff to be uneducated about what really goes on, so it is easier for them to make believe that they are helping the animals in some way.
Breeders often describe themselves as "nature conservationists" and say the animals are later released into the wild.
These lions are usually ripped away from their mothers at just a few days old and therefore don't develop the skills to successfully survive in the wild.
"From a hunting perspective there are people who want their trophies and their 'bucket-list' so to say," Ms Miles said.
"And many believe that what they doing is contributing to conservation, which is the message that's provided, but that money from the captive breeding industry is not being seen by conservation at all."
Lion breeding is a profitable business and hunters pay big money to shoot the best looking lion.
"You can see very quickly the differences between a captive bred lion and a wild one," Ms Miles said.
"Those animals are not scarred and scratched, they are very beautiful and picture perfect creatures."
A male lion with a great mane could cost you anywhere between $A40,000 or $A70,000, or possibly more.
Lionesses are usually around the $11,000 mark and in some cases you can pay extra to shoot her cubs as well.
The animals are usually shot with a rifle or bow and can take multiple shots to kill leaving the them in agony due to inexperienced hunters.
There is an estimated 7000 to 8000 captive lions threatened with this sick fate, which is a 50 per cent increase from 2010.
Though, estimates from the 2018 publication Cuddle Me Kill Me by Richard Pierce, suggest the official figure could be a lot higher.
The Canned Hunting industry is so despicable that even other hunting organisations want to distance themselves from it.
Ms Miles recalled a conversation she had with two hunters about the practice and how they viewed the industry.
"They told us that they do some hunting in parts of the country and they said the quick turn around and instant gratification of some hunting places was disgusting," she said.
"They were saying that if you are breeding you have a responsibility to look after those animals, so that was quite interesting to me."
But, for all of the people that condemn the inhumane practice, there are those that see no issue with it.
"I was sitting at a table one night with a hunter who had come to this part of the world to hunt a leopard and when I asked him why he said to me 'because it's beautiful'," Ms Miles said.
"His eyes were dead. You can look at somebody and feel that there is a life behind their eyes but there was nothing behind his.
"It is frightening when you think that people can be so disconnected to the value of life."
Despite waves of criticism, the breeding of captive lions for hunting is still a legal practice in South Africa.
The reality is it's an extremely profitable industry and so long as there are tourists willing to pay money to be pictured with a lion, whether it be hugging one or standing over it's dead body, these animals will continue to be abused for our amusement.
To figure out how you can help put stop the exploitation of lions visit the Four Paws website.