Lion Encounter - walk with Lions in Zimbabwe

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Sep 4th, 2007, 08:19 AM
  #1
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Lion Encounter - walk with Lions in Zimbabwe

I was looking for info and came upon this thread:
http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...4&tid=34862160

where towards the end there was a long conversation about this program:
http://www.lionencounter.com/index.html

Was anything decided or did anyone find out whether this is indeed a reputable program, or a lion mill producing bait for canned hunts?
I hope they are a good program, because I would really LOVE to walk with and touch a lion!
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Sep 4th, 2007, 09:01 AM
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I did this a week ago and it was great. I used Shearwaters as the tour operator and it was well run. The lions were very healthy and happy. The ones we walked with were 18 months and 10 months, so not quite full grown, but still quite large. I don't have all the details about the reintroduction of the lions, but they said it does happen. I would email them if you have specific questions, they were responsive to my emails. If you go and are interested in other activitied like rafting, helicopter ride, etc, you can book them all together and get much better prices. Other companies offer similar tours too.
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Sep 4th, 2007, 11:19 AM
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Hi,
Yes, I have emailed them some questions about when and where they have re-introduced the lions. I will post the answers.
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Sep 4th, 2007, 12:22 PM
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I took the Walk with the Lions through Shearwaters in March of this year. While it was thrilling to be that up-close and personal there were aspects that bothered me.
We entered through Jurassic Park metal gates - the entire property had an electric fence around it.
We drove by the training area for the elephants. Yes - the elephant rides were on the same property. Videos of either activity are offered after your session. (what next - swim with the hippos?)
The lions came to a whistle like my dogs - actually better trained to the whistle than my dogs. And they knew the word "No" very well.
When asked what happened to the lions after a certain age - the guide literally said they were sold to circuses, zoos, game farms, movie and television production companies. I heard nothing about reintroduction.
I thought we were walking with the outfit associated with Antelope Park, the answer I received and I quote "that is our competitors".
After that it all was bittersweet.
If anyone has any different(better) and more official word on "what happens next" I would love to hear about it.
The URL you posted looks like the group associated with Antelope Park and there is a direct contact hot button there - I would suggest use that rather than going through the booker in Vic Falls to make sure you get the one you want.
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Sep 4th, 2007, 12:40 PM
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we used safpar.com for our Lion Encounter. Don't think it's the same as Shearwaters. They said their lions are reintroduced in a 4 stage program, not sold to zoos or circuses.
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Sep 4th, 2007, 01:56 PM
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Dennis - Thanks for posting that link. I remember that you had a positive experience with safpar and their program.
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Sep 4th, 2007, 05:31 PM
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I would be very cautious about any of these - as much as I also would love to be right next to a lion or two, common sense makes me wonder what happens to the cubs when they get to big and I would not be believing what they told you, they would tell you what they think you want to hear! What happens to the cubs that they decide are not right for human contact? When the country is so poor, I would imagine the worse as they wouldn't feel kindly to an animal that is not paying its way!

All I know for certain, is that once a cub is with humans, then it would never be able to return to the wild! Zimbabwe has no rules regarding these poor animals, all they are doing is targeting a market and I know that I certainly couldn't be giving them money just for me to get a few moment's pleasure!


Kind regards

Kaye
Kind regards

Kaye
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Sep 4th, 2007, 05:54 PM
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There may be more than one outfit that offers "lion encounters" in Vic Falls, and there may be reasons to be more cautious about one than about another.

There is a lot of information about the operator that momliz refers to in the two links that she posted, and information about the same operator is referenced by matnikstym in his posting. More info from that particular operator is also found at http://www.safpar.com/fact_files/lion_conservation.htm

I have noted that momliz's first link includes some info from PredatorBiologist, who actually spoke to that operator and posted the findings of that discussion. I am not aware of any follow-ups since then. But, that information, coupled with matkinstym's experience, led me to book the lion encounter thru SafPar as part of my upcoming trip. I will be there at the end of October. I am very much looking forward to being close to these lions, and I intend to ask a lot of questions about the program (I am a career environmental type and also a wildlife rehabilitator, so the bona fides of the operation do matter to me).
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Sep 4th, 2007, 07:37 PM
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Hi rickmck

I looked at that statement, and I am still not a fan. Knowing what a family group lions are, they need to be to survive in this harsh life, you have all senior female lionesses showing the cubs how to proceed through their incredibly tough life, so introducing cubs, even young subadults, seems like a death sentence to me. Lions have to do a lot more than kill to survive and those skills are learnt from experience with the adult females in their families.

I think I am reading it correctly, when I say no cub used in this interaction, will ever be set free in the wild.

We are not meant to be petting wild animals, and I would love to I admit, but not at the cost of those animals. And I do think those animals pay a cost, that others don't is their opinion, but in all honesty, I could never do it as to me, it is just wrong!

I am not normally such a distrustful person, but in this case I am. They are telling you info that you want to hear, and I do not think Zimbabwe's animal welfare rules are overly strong and that would even give me pause to consider!

Kind regards

Kaye
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Sep 5th, 2007, 09:14 PM
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I emailed them a few days ago and received a response from The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust. Attached to their email was a long .pdf brochure. They have just completed a release of 2 males and 5 females into the Dollar Block, located between Bulawayo and Gweru. And, it states in their brochure, on page 3, that the reserve is currently used for "ethical, sustainable, monitored hunting as part of the reserves' game population management policy."

I did not read the whole thing, it's 10 pages long but it goes on to say how the owners are seeking to "remove hunting practices, made possible by additional revenue from tourism brought by the presence of the lions. By turning the reserve into an internationally acclaimed Big Five reserve, the presence of more predators will also allow for population control through natural means rather than hunting. Our lions will never be hunted."

Sigh!

I sure hope that's true!

email me and I can send anyone the whole thing if you'd like: enalle at cox dot net
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Sep 13th, 2007, 04:34 PM
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In reality they will have entirely too many male lions for any property to sustain. The males will either kill each other outright for territory, or more likely the lions will be sold to hunting ranches, where they will gain revenue from the overstock of males. the females can be released in groups, in large enough tracks of land, breed and overstock until they interact with humans and need to be killed. I did the program two years ago, and the lions were hit with the bamboo sticks you are given to walk with. I would never do it again. suzi
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Sep 24th, 2007, 11:09 PM
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It's time to update this project, largely due to Momliz's correspondence that she shared with me there are a number of facts that can be established about the Antelope Park/Lion Encounter operation that has walks marketed through SafPar and recruits volunteers through its sister organization African Impact.

Known facts:

* The Antelope Park breeding facility has been breeding lions since 1972, 35 years!

* Only in the last 5 or 6 years have they realized that lions are in decline and decided to pursue the higher purpose of reintroducing lions to the wild

* They have not yet released any lions to the wild

* They have just recently (in August '07) moved their first lions to Phase II -- which is a release into a large fenced enclosure (5,000 acres in this case I believe) that is stocked with live prey species. This is the Dollar Block site that Momliz mentioned above. It's a hunting reserve but the lions will not be hunted.

* Only the cubs of these Phase II lions can ever be released into the wild because the other lions have exposure to humans. Considering they still need to breed and raise the cubs to an appropriate release age it will have to be another 3 to 5 years before there are any lions released to the wild.

* They are working on doing a similar Phase II fenced in release in Zambia.

* They typically have more than 40 volunteers at any time. The cost volunteers pay to participate for one month is $3,500 so that would be receipts in excess of $140,000 per month coming in plus however much they make for doing the tourist walks.

*It is very expensive to fence and stock large enclosures as well as raise lions. I do not know if the country or area receiving the lions is paying any cost or not.

*They control their breeding and currently target having about 12 cubs a year that tourists walk with and some of whom will subsequently breed lions that can be released in the future. Each of the 12 new lions a year will never be able to be released.

*Discovery Channel is making a 90 minute documentary and another show will air in the U.K. thus they seem to be successfully selling their approach to the media which isn't too surprising and will surely lead to making many more sales to tourists and volunteers.

Based on the facts I have formed some opinions that could well change with future facts but at this point I remain very skeptical. A huge part of the problem for me is that they have about 30 years of breeding lions purely for financial gain and no higher purpose until recently. That has them starting behind the 8 ball for me and creates the jaded outlook that they had to create a higher purpose to adjust with the times as more tourists are becoming concerned about the fate of the tourist animal plus paid volunteerism has become a great new revenue opportunity -- often needed by scientists so I'm not knocking that idea but it may well have helped motivate this shift in the business model. At first glance the noble idea of reintroducing a species sounds fantastic and I'm sure it will come off wonderfully on the Discovery Channel. In the end the part that I can't get past is they continue to breed 12 lions a year basically to cash in on the tourism business since they can never enter the wild. They claim its all part of research to find DNA links to hunting traits to increase their success in breeding for releases but this is being measured in such an unnatural environment that I think its just a fancy way to justify keeping the tourism business alive. Such a study on wild prides would be fascinating. Hopefully Nancy who works at a big cat sanctuary may see this and chime in with some stats but there is such a glut of captive big cats that it is often a struggle to even find proper housing and care for them. Zoos are filled to the gills with lions and have very strategic breeding programs with cooperation to maximize diversity. With all this captive lion population built up there is no need to keep producing generations for tourism, genetically it would be smarter to tap into the enormous captive breeding population that already exists. If this operation would become like most reintroduction projects and stop producing excess animals whose value is ruined by being used for tourism I could support their efforts but right now the focus seems to be to continue with business as usual in addition to the elaborate reintroduction scheme.

Beyond all that, reintroduction is an extremely difficult approach to saving species and is usually used as a last resort. The bulk of decline in lions is not in protected areas, it's lions who are out there interacting with human settlements where they are persecuted or natural prey is eliminated. There are many reserves that are likely reaching or exceeding carrying capacity for lions, especially the many fenced ones in South Africa, and it would be much better to have a coordination project where lions from such areas were strategically translocated into protected areas that need lions. It may make sense to also translocate some lions that are living on the edge in conflict with humans to protected areas as well (depends on a lot of complicated factors) to supplement or start populations in reserves. Translocated wild animals have much higher survival success rates than reintroduced animals who are coming back to the wild from captive parents.

In the end for me the value in revenue and research does not approach producing 12 wasted lion lives on an annual basis, especially for a project that I don't believe offers the best solution for repopulating lions.
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Sep 24th, 2007, 11:58 PM
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PB, now THAT's a reply that everyone should read! Thanks for that!

I agree 100%, by the way.

To all, a simple fact; you cannot reintroduce lions to the wild, if they've been accustomed to humans. Out there, it's survival of the fittest. Any reintroduced lion that meets a lion pride in the wild is doomed.

To put it otherwise; if you get up close & personal with lions that are bred and kept in captivity (and worse; that you may touch like in a petting zoo), then you must realise that animal will NEVER lead a normal lion-life.

All these breeding programs for lions; I am very sceptical as well. Breeding for canned hunting... disgusting. Breeding to be reintroduced... hardly possible. Breeding lions for a fund-raising program (to save other lions)... even that is a no-no in my book.

If they want to reintroduce lions in a certain area, the best tactic is to sedate and relocate a whole pride. And the area where they come from will be filled in by other lions soon enough. Because for both source- and destination area; if there's sufficient prey, lions will survive and reproduce.

Ciao,

J.
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Sep 25th, 2007, 12:17 AM
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I'm with KayeN and Pred-- the lay person and the scientist. I can't add any more to what they say.

John
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Sep 25th, 2007, 04:39 AM
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I visited the Gweru antelope park in middle of july and I liked it . You can see my whole trip report here. http://fodors.com/forums/pgMessages....=0&keyword=435, even though I will allways prefer to see a lion in the wild.

I defintely think that Antelope Park has a purpose. The lions were in good condition and the 4 phase program looked like it could work. Again like PB says that I would be better to concentrate on saving lions that allready are living in the wild, but again if you can look beyond these factors I found Gweru Antelope Park a much better places for lions(they have 3000 acres of land) than my own local zoo back in Denmark( and they just won a prize for their handling of the wildlife). Here the lions also have cubs but they are almost always put down, because no one wants them.

Zimbabwe donīt have many good thinks working, but Gweru worked and it sustained a lot of people and I guees the place will keep a lot of people alive during these hard times and after all that still counts for something?
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Sep 25th, 2007, 08:19 AM
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jesron - bottom line for me is that they are breeding lions for hunting, even though they say they aren't. There are many other ways that the local folks could make a living, there are many sustainable tourism projects with low start up costs, or other businesses. The energy that is going into this abomination could be directed to more animal/environmental friendly pursuits.

And, thanks, PB, for bringing this back up! Now, how to get the other side of the story to the Discovery Channel folks - anyone with an in there?
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Sep 25th, 2007, 09:12 AM
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Great post, PB. Thanks!
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Sep 25th, 2007, 09:20 AM
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Asante sana, Predator!
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Sep 25th, 2007, 09:22 AM
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Thanks PB and Momliz for the updated information. I'm not inclined to do this sort of activity but this further information clinches it. Should be useful information for many.

CW

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Sep 25th, 2007, 09:35 AM
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"There are many other ways that the local folks could make a living, there are many sustainable tourism projects with low start up costs, or other businesses."

We are talking about a country that has an unemployment rate of 80% (2005 est), and a huge decrease in visitor numbers since 2000, especially among photo tourists (in 2000 alone, after Mugabe started his "land reform" programme, numbers fell by 60%).

When reading statements such as the above, I sometimes feel like being in outer space.
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