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Playing With Lions

Updated on August 7, 2016

Playing With Lions and Tigers

Playing with lions or tigers may appear to be a thrilling and risky undertaking. It is both of these things and more. The adrenaline rush can be a real buzz to the first timer and never goes completely. Some people do not need to 'play' but get just as big a kick out of posing for a photograph with a chained, trained and/or drugged big cat or bear.

Playing with Tigers and Lions is not clever or magical in any way. There is no communion of souls there is no special gift involved.

Having a big cat to play with is initially a little time consuming and does require some dedication. All it really takes is for an abandoned or deliberately pulled lion or tiger cub to be hand reared. This will mean some sleepless nights preparing milk formula, feeding and toilet duties. Done with kindness and care the cat will become 'tame'. Large cats can, when reared this way, appear to behave as soft as your average domesticated tabby. They are not! They are not domestic and are never truly tame. There is always a risk. They are big, strong, well armed and unpredictable. It is the 'tame' Lions, Tigers and Bears which will kill and injure keepers and handlers each year, not the 'wild' ones. Each regularly handled big cat is, quite literally, an accident waiting to happen.

These are not pets, these are not toys, these are not children. They are wild animals and are not meant to be played with. It isn't clever and does not do the animals any favours. In fact, quite the opposite.

Lion Cub in Seattle 1933

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Declawing Cats For Convenience

No amount of experience will prevent accidents though years will help one read the signs and give one a 'feel' and delay the inevitable. Some less experienced 'handlers/trainers' will cruelly declaw 'their' Big Cats and so eliminate one of the main risks.

It has been suggested by the ill informed that if declawing was cruel and painful that the cat would never forgive the owner. Using that argument every circumcised baby would hate its parents. Declawing IS cruel. Not only is it painful, unnatural and unnecessary but it does lasting, permanent damage to the cat. Along with shortening the animals lifespan it causes arthritis and other skeletal damage.

St Gerasim

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Is it ever necessary to handle large cats?

No it is not. Not in a zoo environment. If it has been necessary to hand rear then once the cub or cubs is feeding independently then they should be 'hacked back' into its/their natural zoo environment. It is perfectly possible for the person who reared the animal to maintain a safe relationship 'through the bars' if they see the need.

Those people who continue a risky 'hands on' relationship with fully grown big cats do it for themselves not for the animals. Such people do it because they thrive on the attention they get from other people, in effect to show off. They do it because they cannot let go of 'their' baby. They do it because they are little more than circus performers and this is how they get their thrills and for some of them it is how they make their money.

This really is not fair on the big cat, bear, chimpanzee or monkey because it always remains an accident waiting to happen.

These 'hands on' approaches contribute nothing to husbandry, research or conservation. They are pure 'look how clever I am antics'.


Kevin Richardson - A statistic waiting to happen

The exceptions to hand rearing

There are exceptions to hand rearing. That is presuming that hand rearing WAS absolutely essential at one point. The exception is really limited to one reason and one reason only. This is where the parents were hand reared and the relationship maintained to the degree that the dam accepts its human 'foster parent' and/or 'adopted pride member' to touch her cubs and so build a relationship with those too. It takes an exceptional type of person to do such a thing and as far as I am aware there are very few such people around.

Kevin Richardson immediately springs to mind. His relationship with his animals IS special. He has not trained in the conventional sense nor has he declawed or let other people into the enclosures with his animals. That said none of what he has done actually contributes either to the welfare of the animals.

I suppose that at some point that some scientist will eventually come up with the 'new discovery' that mother animals are 'proud' of their new babies. I have had four mother chimpanzees present their various young to me (through bars) to touch on the day they were born. I have had the same experience with both lions and leopards (though not on the day of birth). Mother animals are proud!

Kevin Richardson has built upon this fact to establish what is possibly a unique understanding with his captive animals. He is clearly a dedicated and exceptional young man. He is a true 'Lion Man' if such a person exists. Sadly though Mr Richardson is an accident waiting to happen. Mr Richardson is fully aware of the possibility and accepts this.

No-one else is put at risk.

Lion Portrait

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Cash For Conservation

There can be little doubt that some zoos will and do raise money for conservation related causes by hosting 'posing' or walk out sessions with big cats. In some cases the amount raised can be quite substantial. Sadly however this is not why these collections continue with this outdated practice. They do it as a commercial draw and the 'conservation cash' amounts to no more than excuse for bad practice and as a bribe to conservation bodies to keep their mouths shut. Conservation does need cash.

Where these collections use white tigers the practice is doubly wrong. The situation becomes worse still when such large cats are deliberately pulled as cubs specifically for handling sessions or taken from their parents at the barest pretence of an excuse. It may seem scarcely credible but there are zoos which deliberately pull young cats from their parents with the argument that they can do a better job of rearing them than can the true mother. No they can't....this is just an excuse (and a pitiful one at that) so that they can hand rear and deliberately humanise the big cats.

Similarly such places argue that there is little likelihood of Lions or Tigers ever being returned to the wild. This is hardly an excuse to hand rear and humanise. The modern good zoo does not foresee return to the wild in the immediate future but to manage and maintain genetically viable populations for a possible return at some as yet unknown date. It would be pointless to return any species to an environment under any form of threat or where an existing population was safe and stable.

Zoos which promote Big Cat Handling, Posing and Walks in a seemingly 'humane' manner do it for profit. They send out a message that what they are doing is okay, that it is permissable, that it is right. This is picked up by second rate establishments the world over who cruelly exploit their animals. This is clearly the case in the Tiger Temple, Sri Racha Tiger Zoo amongst others which are included in The Zoo Hubs. Far better that 'humane' zoos cease the practice so that a worldwide ban can be called for. Good Zoos do not handle tigers to raise money and still manage to collect for conservation.

The South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Cumbria, England has raised £618,276.42  for tiger conservation in Sumatra. This money was collected between 1st January 2005 and the summer of 2010. This remarkable amount of money was raised by giving public talks at tiger feeding sessions. There was no handling, no petting, no stroking, no walking, pulling or hand rearing.

Petting A White Tiger

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A Souvenir Lion Photograph

In some parts of Africa having your photograph taken with a Lion is a big part of the tourist scene. Few give it a second thought, hand over their dollars and go home with a snap of them feeding a lion cub or posing with a half grown animal.

Why are they with the Lion at all? Why is it not with its mother? Why is it not in a pride, living with its own kind? The argument may be presented that it was taken because the mother did not know how to feed it. This is no more than an excuse. The cubs are pulled so that their mother will quickly become pregnant again. This happens in Thailand and China too. In fact in every posing establishment.

Such establishments need a constant flow of cubs and young animals ready and available for the next group of tourist to pose with.

Apart from the doubtless cruelty of the endless procession of handlers the cubs quickly become humanised. They are useless as candidates for return to the wild if a suitable piece of really wild wild could be found. No these cubs are destined for the canned hunt market. They will be placed in large enclosures where a different type of tourist will pay to shoot and kill them. They too will have their photographs taken with the lion, albeit DEAD.

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