Why are we doing this program?

Colin’s wildlife education tour is an education and community-based program created to raise awareness of the plight of lions and to campaign for their survival.

It is a fact that the lion population word-wide is in steep decline. In many areas in Africa, lions have become extinct and their survival in the wild is classified as “critical”. At this point in time, the lion count in Africa, including those at breeding stations, stands at around 20 000, whereas in 1950 it was 400 000 and in the early 1990’s it stood at 100 000. This represents a decline of 30 to 50% in the last two decades.

The most important causes for the decline are the following:

  • illness,
  • shrinking of habitat, which often translates to human conflict
  • isolated prides, which inbreed and then eventually die out.

(Take note that the decline is NOT due to trophy hunting of captive-bred lions!!)

The situation of free-roaming lions in South Africa is also alarming. The estimated count of 2 700 “free-roaming lions” occur in the Kruger National Park together with the surrounding game reserves. Even although there are smaller populations in other areas, they are not regarded as self-sustaining, as these populations have to be managed very carefully by adding lions or taking lions away from time to time essentially to prevent in-breeding. The lions in the Kruger National Park are also a cause for concern as they are largely infected with Tuberculosis. According to Dr. Dewald Keet the state veterinary surgeon for the Kruger Park, this disease is a major threat to the species, especially when one considers that a very large percentage of the population have also been tested to be FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) positive. This results in a lowered immune response and increases the threat of the lions contracting Tuberculosis. According to this renowned veterinary surgeon, up to 78% of lions in the Southern areas of the Park are infected with this disease, but because the illness is spreading very slowly, people are under the misconception that the situation has been stabilized. The fact is that at least 25 lions die every year as a result of TB. The disease also has a profound effect on the social behaviour of the pride. Infected males within the pride are weakened, and this leads to a fast replacement of males within the pride. These new males kill all the babies from the previous male, and the numbers within the pride decline. With the vicious fighting that takes place blood–blood transmission of the FIV virus is significantly increased – in fact almost guaranteed. These two factors alone have a disastrous effect on the pride, as the entire pride can be wiped out in a very short time. Dr. Keet reckons that it may even be too late to save the existing “free-roaming” lions of the Kruger Park.

Against this background, one needs to encourage a new view upon the breeding of lions within South Africa to counter the emotional internet rantings of “armchair activists” from all over the globe. The uncontrolled internet protocols allow any uneducated, uninformed and often emotionally unstable “animal lover” to maliciously accuse legitimate scientifically based breeding programs of “canned hunting” – an unethical practice severely frowned upon by Horseback Africa. Outrageous, dishonest and libellous outpourings based on not a thread of evidence flood the internet, often hidden behind anonymous cover and temporary IP addresses. To compound the problem there are also a whole host of opportunists who have jumped on the “FUNDING” bandwagon. Respond to their posting and very soon (after receiving a tranche of gruesome images collected from all over the world over the last 20 years depicting lions that were hunted) you will be presented with the ever present “DONATE NOW” button. As they say - every day a sucker is born. Understandable though when presented with this cleaver technique.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has classified the lion as being on the endangered species list, but in South Africa there has been a new revolution in the survival of this species. Hunting of free-roaming lions in South Africa has basically come to an end, except in specific private game reserves allocated for this purpose. As in the case of the rhinos, a new future has arisen in South Africa since the breeding of these animals in captivity. Today there are more lions within breeding facilities, than there are communally within any national or provincial game reserves together. There are approximately 7000 lions within around 260 captive breeding facilities in South Africa to date.

One of the greatest guarantees for the survival of lions in South Africa today is the conservation efforts of lion breeders who gain financially from this and therefore make sure that the species survives. There are around 200 individuals and associations who have permits to keep and breed lions on South Africa. Out of these 200 permits, there are only a small number of individuals who have permits to hunt lions. The other permit-holders, like ourselves, keep lions, rhinos and other endangered species purely for personal, aesthetic reasons and eco-tourism awareness programs.

Hand-reared cubs from Colin’s wildlife education tour become crusaders for the species. Colin’s wildlife education tour is also linked with other lion programs so that jointly we can make a difference to the survival of the king of the African bush. It is also very important that we concentrate on genetic diversity.

Colin’s wildlife education tour is continually evolving and taking on new challenges to improve the program.

Be proactive, be aware, be kind - to both human and animals.