Tagged: volunteering

Lions and Bucket Lists

Sunday, August 10, 2014 -- 11:02 pm

Pretty much since I can remember, I’ve wanted to hug a lion.  A big male lion with a giant mane I can run my hands through.  It’s been up there at the top of my bucket list right along with owning my very own home, standing underneath the Eiffel Tower, and traveling to Africa: hug a lion.  Some people may think it’s a bit silly, but for me the thought makes the breath catch in my throat and brings tears to my eyes the same way that the individuals who cry for whatever reason at weddings can’t really explain to other people.  Some people’s dreams involve winning the gold, visiting the Great Wall, or swimming with dolphins.  This is mine.

While I’ve already crossed off Paris and home ownership, earlier this year I made the decision that I would finally stop saying “some day” and tackle at least one more of these dreams: in 2015 (barring complications and scary Ebola outbreaks) I will be going to South Africa to volunteer for two to four weeks at an animal sanctuary and conservation reserve.

Like many others, my original idea for doing this came from watching a series of YouTube videos showing groups of international volunteers helping out at a South African lion park, feeding and playing with the cute, furry cubs.  I was entranced.  “What?” I thought.  “You mean I could visit Africa AND have the opportunity to cuddle lion cubs at the same time?”  It wasn’t the big adult lion I had been hoping for, but it was the closest I was probably ever going to get.  The decision was obvious.

Except -- it wasn’t.  Because the more excited I got, the more looking into it I did, the more I learned. . . the more I realized I didn’t want to do this at all.  The more I realized I didn’t want anyone anywhere ever doing this.

What You Don’t Know: A World Without Lions

To understand the problem behind this idea I had of cuddling adorable lion cubs, you have to have a little bit of an understanding about the current status of lions.

Lions are everywhere -- depicted on popular branding and logos, emblazoned on our clothes, sitting outside buildings as stone facades, on children’s books and in movies.  They have become cultural icons across the world and are easily one of the first and most identifiable animals we learn to recognize at an early age.

Unfortunately, what most people are surprised to learn is that lions are in serious trouble -- in the 1940’s there were reported to be over 450,000 lions in Africa; by the 1980’s less than 100,000.  Today there are only as few as 20,000 to 35,000 left in all of Africa.  That’s nearly a staggering 95% decrease in only 70 years; and over an 80% loss of population in just the last 30 years alone.  The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) have lions currently classified as a vulnerable species, though many people argue they should officially be listed as endangered.

So where has the king of beasts gone?

Lions are suffering from a four-pronged threat:

  1. Habitat loss / human encroachment: lions have disappeared from over 75% of their former range and there’s increasingly less wild habitat for them to live in due to ever expanding human settlements.  Lion prides require a very large territory to thrive, and the decreasing space they find themselves in simply isn’t enough to support them and other wild game.
  2. Retaliatory killings: with less habitat space and less available game to hunt, lions begin preying on livestock -- and in turn are being killed by angry farmers.
  3. Poaching: lions are being illegally trapped and slaughtered almost to extinction in various national parks across Africa; their meat is sold as “bushmeat” at local African markets, while their bones are traded to China to be used for traditional medicinal purposes that have no scientific basis, and as a replacement for tiger bones in making tiger bone wine (since tigers have been practically wiped out due to the same practice.)
  4. Tourist hunting: rich tourists from overseas flock to Africa to pay for the right to shoot a lion for sport in trophy and canned hunts.

It’s both devastating and sadly not surprising at all that people are the direct root of every one of these problems.  It’s estimated that within just 20 years the lion could become completely extinct in the wild.  We are wiping out this species just as we wiped out the passenger pigeon and the Western black rhino and so many other species, all because humans can’t seem to learn that we don’t own the world -- we’re a part of it.  And if we don’t change the way we think, then generations from now parents will be explaining to their children how that fascinating and iconic animal with the beautiful mane on the front of their storybook doesn’t actually exist anymore.

Africa’s Dirty Secret: Canned Hunting

So where does lion cub cuddling factor into all of this?  Remember that four-pronged threat I mentioned above?  This is where we learn a bit more about number four on that list: canned hunting.

Canned hunting (also called “put and take” hunting) was first exposed back in 1997 by the Cook Report, a British exposé program.  It is the disturbing practice of placing a lion or other captive animal in an area to be shot for sport with no means of escape – this can be due to being fenced in a small enclosed space, being preemptively drugged or lured in, or by having all natural fear of people removed from being hand-raised and tamed by humans.  They’re incredibly popular as they ensure a virtually guaranteed kill for even first time hunters with little to no effort on their part.

These captive bred hunts are a lucrative, rapidly flourishing, and un-policed industry, particularly in South Africa where there have been over 160 canned lion breeding farms established in the last 15 years.  In South Africa alone, there are more lions bred and raised in cages than there are in the wild – at last count only about 2,700 lions existed on game reserves in South Africa compared to the more than 8,000 in captivity, most of them destined to end up in canned hunts.

The Con of Conservation Volunteering: Cub Petting

If that’s not upsetting enough, here’s where the innocent, well-meaning and animal loving general public falls in -- specifically, international tourists and volunteers who come to Africa to pet and raise lion cubs.

Petting lion cubs is a popular tourist attraction and attracts droves of visitors to animal parks every year, in addition to hundreds of overseas volunteers and gap year students eager to lend a hand and their time in helping to raise and take care of animals -- and willing to pay thousands of dollars a month for the privilege.  Unfortunately, the truth that so few are aware of is that the parks offering these opportunities serve as direct or indirect breeding centers for canned hunting establishments.  They essentially have lions raised by tourists to later be killed by tourists -- and they profit from it every step of the way.

The life cycle of a single captive bred lion can bring in thousands or even millions of dollars in profit for a facility:

  1. Cubs are bred and taken from the mother days after being born, which is traumatic for both mother and cub.  The cubs are then raised by paying volunteers; tourists pay to pet them and take pictures with them.  This constant handling is actually detrimental to the cubs’ health, extremely stressful, and often leads to health problems.
  2. When the cubs are older, tourists can pay to walk with them for “enrichment purposes.”
  3. When the lions reach adulthood and are too large to be pet or walked with anymore, females are taken to breed more cubs; cubs are pulled from the mothers 3 - 10 days after being born in order to immediately put the lioness back into estrus so she can be mated again.  Adult males are sent to hunting farms.
  4. The bones of killed lions are sold to East Asian markets.

Volunteers and tourists are often none the wiser, lured into supporting such establishments parading as animal sanctuaries or rescues.  These facilities advertise under claims of conservation breeding and purposely misinform visitors that the lions raised are being re-introduced back into the wild.

The fact of the matter is that it is not possible for lions bred and raised in captivity to be released into the wild.  It has never been successfully done, because lions in captive breeding programs have compromised genetics and are often too inbred to be released -- doing so would genetically harm wild populations and introduce disease.  In addition to this, basic conservation practices will not allow animals that have been raised by and habituated to humans to be returned to the wild, as they have lost their fear of people which is a critical survival instinct.  Do not believe any establishment that tries to tell you otherwise.

I can’t blame past volunteers.  My heart goes out to them, devoting their money, time, and passion into an apparent cause they care so much about and animals they become so bonded to, only to find out afterward that they’ve been duped.  There have been some instances in which volunteers have rallied and petitioned through social media in an effort to save certain lions that are being put up for a hunt; one volunteer went so far as to purchase her lion cubs and relocate them to a legitimate sanctuary.

Aside from being a cruel and unethical business practice, the cub petting and canned hunting cycle actually harms legitimate conservation efforts for wild lions.  It not only takes international tourism and donation dollars away from real conservation projects seeking funding, but also whereas breeding farms misinform the public that their lions are being re-introduced back into the wild, lions are in fact being caught and removed from the wild in effort to add genetic diversity to the farm stock.

If you are considering visiting Africa in the future and are planning on engaging in cub petting, please reconsider and avoid supporting any facility that offers lion cub interactions.  For those who have visited Africa and have come home with pictures of themselves cuddling lion cubs -- the cub in your photo is probably dead by now.  If it’s a female, she has been force bred into litter after litter of cubs that are repeatedly taken away once their born, and bought for thousands of dollars to be slaughtered.  Not for their meat, but for entertainment.  And all at the cost of the lions themselves, both captive and wild.

Weeding the Good From the Bad: How Do You Know?

Easy.  Ask questions.  Do your research.

Before you visit or volunteer at an animal park, find out more information about it.  Search online for reviews or hints of unethical business practices or questionable associations; talk to other past visitors and volunteers; and get in touch directly with someone from the facility itself.

During your inquiry, some helpful questions to ask include:

  • How can you aim to reintroduce animals to the wild and yet allow volunteers to handle them and expose them to so much human contact?
  • What happens to the animals when they're older? Are they sold? If so, to where? What sort of assurances do you take to make sure you're not participating in canned hunting?
  • How often are lionesses giving birth to new litters?
  • Why are cubs being removed from their mothers in the first place? For what purpose/reason?
  • If you're breeding lions, what's your breeding plan? What happens when there are too many animals to support? Why breed purely for a life of confinement? If you rescue animals, why perpetuate the problem by breeding more of them?
  • Predators raised in captivity have little to no success of ever being released back into the wild. How many successful reintegration into the wild cases have you had? Do you have any specific and detailed documentation or proof of these instances?

In addition to questioning the facility itself, there are a number of other things to keep in mind when searching for a reputable place to visit or volunteer.  Based on my own experience over the last several months, my advice would be the following:

  • Dig into not only the program/facility itself, but also the travel or volunteer company offering the program.  Avoid any companies that do not specifically advertise the names of the facilities they want to send you to and list them rather as some vague "Big 5 Safari Reserve."  When inquiring about the exact location of one volunteer program, I received a reply that they were not allowed to release that information to me until after booking.  Word to the wise: if they’re not being straight with you, there’s a reason.
  • Do your research not just on the facility, but on the owners and management too.  When looking up information about one park that claimed itself a rescue sanctuary, I came across three news reports of the owner having previously been involved in supplying tame animals for canned hunts.
  • Ask for reviews from others -- but with all word-of-mouth, take other people’s words with a grain of salt.  Facebook groups devoted to responsible volunteering are helpful and can be commended for the awareness they’re trying to create – but how authoritative are all of the individuals running these groups and the people commenting?
  • When making direct inquiries, be polite but insistent.  Do not settle for vague stock replies; ask to speak to someone higher up if necessary.  And do not make accusations or begin ranting – you will get less straight answers, and instead receive a defensive reply or no reply at all.
  • If the answers you do receive convince you that the facility is bad news, respond politely telling them so.  This is actually not something I’ve done myself before, but will begin doing for the simple reason that most of the people working at these establishments don’t know any better.  More often than not, they’re fed information from park management and probably have no idea themselves what’s actually going on.  By explaining to them why you’re not interesting in supporting their business, you may just help raise awareness of the issue with that one employee.

The safest rule of thumb to follow though is to simply avoid any facility that offers cub petting or lion walks.  No true sanctuary breeds animals or has a steady supply of cubs.  And no reputable animal welfare organization will allow you to walk with predators or have any unnecessary physical interaction with wild animals or their infants – this is to protect you, the animal, and to reduce the chances of human habituation.

Knowing What You Know: How to Help

Let’s face it -- in truth, lions are not anymore deserving of our compassion and conservation efforts than any other animal.  I’m not trying to say they deserve special treatment in this regard -- rather that all animals do, native to our own land or otherwise.  But the lion is special to me.  I have spent my childhood and adult life dreaming of going to Africa and experiencing these animals, and the idea that years from now the only place anyone will be able to see a lion is behind a fence destroys me.

When these parks and reserves try to lure you in with the promise of cuddling cute cubs, be proactive.  Don’t be lazy -- do your own research. Dig deeper.  Because when you know what's going on but pretend you don't, or ignore it, or make excuses for why it's okay just this once -- you are saying you support this practice.  Because now you've read this, and now you know.

So what can you do to help stop it?  Simple.  It’s fast, easy, and won’t cost you a cent: share what you know.  In honor of World Lion Day, spread the word about how lions are disappearing.  That cub petting attractions are scams and that canned hunting is a sickening industry that is only getting bigger and bigger, and that tourists and volunteers are unknowingly hurting the same animals they appreciate so much.  Help save lions by simply sharing an article or posting a video, because awareness is half the battle.  (And if you do by chance want to donate, check out the links at the bottom of this post!)

I’m sure some people think I’m crazy – that I’m making too much out of nothing and that I’m obviously just another silly tree hugger.  Sure, okay, maybe I am.  I’m a lion hugger, but in name only.  Because I will not ignore or pretend -- and that probably means I will never have a chance to touch a lion, which is crushing.  I'll have to give up that particular dream.  And I'm okay with that.

 

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Learn More, Do More: Extra Resources

Websites and print resources:

  • National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative
    Learn more about the plight of Big Cats across the world, including lions and learn what you can do to help through advocacy and fundraising, as well as donating to the fantastic Build a Boma campaign.
  • National Geographic Kids’ “Mission: Lion Rescue” by Ashlee Brown Blewett and Daniel Raven-Ellison
    A fantastic and very informative book for kids and adults that covers everything from lion facts and history, the threats facing them, conservation strategies, and advocacy ideas/activities.  (Check to see if your local library has a copy!)
  • Campaign Against Canned Hunting
    CACH is a non-governmental organization founded and led by Chris Mercer, the leading expert and outspoken advocate against canned hunting.
  • Volunteers Beware (Facebook group)
    If you’re planning a wildlife-based volunteer trip to South Africa, this is a Facebook group you should check out.  They aim to raise awareness about things like cub petting and canned hunting, and compile reviews and information about different SA volunteer programs in an effort to help people choose reputable volunteer placements.  It has helpful information on it though it’s mostly conjecture, so don't rely entirely on it and always do your own research.
Some excellent exploratory videos and interviews that explore in-depth the canned hunting industry, cub petting, and the lion bone trade.  Very informative, and a must-watch:
Additional informative articles discussing cub petting, canned hunting, and the lion bone trade:

 

For more posts on cub petting, canned hunting, and lion conservation, 
follow my other blog at Bucket List Lion.

 

This calls for celebratory Swiss Chalet!

Monday, August 15, 2011 -- 10:29 pm

Today was officially my last volunteer shift at the library... because I just got hired on as SAPL's newest part-time library page! HURRAH HURRAH HURRAH!  *Does her ecstatic happy dance*

That whole thing before where I said how it was a super part-time position with only eight hours a week?  Well revise that, it's actually a very super part-time position.  Due to some complications with my schooling (it was a little touch and go for a few hours today on whether I'd be able to take the job at all) and the shifts that they need to fill, instead of twice a week as originally planned I'll only be going in once a week -- but still four hours is 100% more paid library work than I was doing before, right?  I'LL TAKE IT I'LL TAKE IT!  *Claws desperately at the air like a foaming cat flailing for a stuffed fish on a string.*  Those four hours may make all the difference between being hired for additional library jobs in the future or facing another two years of agonizing rejection at the hands of spiteful human resource personnel.  *Shakes her fist at HR minions as they cackle malevolently down in their dark, cavernous office pit and proceed to disregard her resumes and applications and use them to stoke their evil fires of pithy judgmental scorn.*  D:{

Just goes to show that enough perseverance always prevails.  And if that doesn't work, it never hurts to slip the person in charge a discreet, unmarked manilla envelope under the table.  (I'm joking, obviously.  Or AM I? No really, I am.  ORLY? *Shifty eyes*)

This blog post is simply a prelude to eating cake.

Monday, January 31, 2011 -- 11:02 pm
Mood: 07 Mmmm... cake...

Tonight was my first St. Albert Library volunteer shift upstairs shelving magazines. I know that sounds really very "big deal, so what", but it was very exciting. When you've previously spent all your time working on the main floor sorting paperbacks and DVDs the second floor feels like a significant promotion for some reason. (It's where all the big boy books live! First the hardcovers... THEN THE WORLD, MUH HA HA HA! Yeah, I don't know.) I also spoke to the volunteer coordinator regarding if there were any job openings coming down the pipeline, and apparently they may have a casual page position opening up some time soon that current volunteers will get first crack at. The hours wouldn't even really qualify as part-time, but it's still the most positive news I've received yet in my job hunt and getting in just a couple of paid hours here and there would at least put me in the running finally for when a more substantial position opens up.

This past week I've been doing some pro bono work designing a site for a LAN party startup company Mason and I are helping out with, and it's the first time I've actually enjoyed doing web design in almost two years. This is probably directly related to the fact that: a) I have 100% free reign over the whole thing and am not dealing with frustrating clients, and b) the design is centered around one particularly rad velociraptor motif. Everyone knows it's a proven fact that raptors make everything more awesome!

Other than that, I've been spending a lot of time arranging appointments for wedding related to-do's and passing any spare moment anxiously awaiting more RSVPs to come in. It's taking an excruciatingly slow time. Everyone should have received their invite by now! Why do I only have 54 replies so far? T-T Let's go, people! Don't you know there are very important seating charts to be mapped out?!

Finally, since it's become increasingly clear that my chances of scoring an entry-level library job without a proper education is not very high, I may or may not be applying back to school this fall for the Library and Information Technology program. At the very least it's been taken under serious consideration and I'm planning on attending another information session at Grant MacEwan later this month to ask some questions and smooth out some details. It's kind of exciting but also very daunting at the same time... :x More info on that once I know more.

And now... to eat cake.

EHS Volunteering

Saturday, September 11, 2010 -- 2:11 pm
Mood: 07 Warm and fuzzy inside

This morning I attended a orientation session for new volunteers at the Edmonton Humane Society. It's actually the second one I've gone to in the last year or two, but after the first one I never heard anything back from them on how to proceed to the next step, so I'm not sure if I got lost in the fray some where down the line or what. Luckily this time around seemed much more organized and I walked out happily at the end with a yellow EHS volunteer shirt and everything~

The lady from the EHS (who has also served as an EMT) who headed the session started it off by talking a little about her time in New York several years back, and how she was there the day of and helped out during the events of 9/11. She showed us some of her own pictures that she'd taken during and after the attacks, as well spoke about and showed us photos of some of the animal rescue units that assisted in the aftermath; like how the search and rescue dogs were transported across the rubble and debris. Also how in addition to the typical medium to large sized breeds that you usually see with emergency crews, 9/11 had a lot of tiny miniature dogs like poodles and terriers working with the team as well since they could get into so many smaller spots than the rest of of the search and rescue animals. It was really interesting to hear about.

I chose to sign up for the EHS cat socialization volunteer program (you had the option between cats and dogs), so I'm going in for a mentoring session for that on Tuesday. In passing the staff also asked who of us had any experience with smaller mammals like rabbits (I think there was only two of us in the whole room), so I'm arranging another much smaller session to cover that so I can volunteer with both.

I love the EHS, they're such a wonderful organization with the nicest facility and staff. I've wanted to help out some way with them for the longest time. So excited~ :3

Weekend notables.

Sunday, August 8, 2010 -- 11:53 pm
Mood: 13 Mostly sleepy.

I had my first volunteer shift at the Stanley Milner Library yesterday, sorting books for their upcoming book sale(s) down in the basement. There were less volunteers than I thought there'd be, and I turned out to be the youngest among them (looks like most of the EPL volunteers are older people who are retired or don't work full hours and have oodles of spare time... so we have something in common then), but it was a good time. It also helps that for each volunteer session I help out at, I score four dollars of free used books! XB (When we're talking used books, four dollars buys a respectable pile of new novels to add to my collection~) They also have a drink fridge and sneaky filing cabinet drawer full of snacks to nibble on while you're sorting. Definitely worth waking up early for yesterday morning.

Mason and I watched the new DC animated movie, Batman: Under the Red Hood the other evening, based on the whole Jason Todd reborn storyline. Verdict? Pretty sweet. :B I've read "A Death in the Family" and I'm familiar with the general plot points of Red Hood's origin, so it was neat to see a video version of the story (and according to reviews from people more comic-savvy than I, the adaptation is pretty well done.) Pleasing art and animation, good script, and much more blood and violence than I've seen in the past Batman animated videos. My only sad note is that this movie changed all of the usual voice actors I've come to know and love from the animated Batman universe -- it's silly, but there will always be a little part of me that shuns anyone who tries to fill Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamill's shoes. On the other hand... Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing is awesome! *Glee*

On that thought, why is it that random street thugs know that Nightwing was formerly Robin...? o_O Did Batman post memos up all over Gotham? Is there an official Batman newsletter?

Hello ladies. How are you? Fantastic.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 -- 1:20 pm
Mood: 07 Content

Survived camping in bear country, hurrah! \o/ Next week I'm off again for our biennial Road Trip of Sisterly Win to visit equally awesome Brother of Awesome and Sister-In-Law of Rad over in B.C. This involves our traditional 12 hour drive through the mountains, the same ones I just returned from this past weekend; the only difference being that if we encounter bears, I will already be safely in our car traveling at 130 km/h on the highway. Ha HA! How do ya like them apples, bears?! *Smug*

Still no interviews. *Sad face* In the mean time I've begun taking on contract work again to at least bring in some sort of income aside from my EI. Last week through word of mouth I managed to pick up a couple new web projects, so that's keeping me nice and busy during the day when I was formerly just laying around watching episodes of Secret Diary of a Call Girl and napping.

In addition to contract work, I've started volunteering at the St. Albert Public Library! :3 (I've also put in an application at the EPL, but they haven't contacted me back yet.) It's great because it'll finally give me a little experience to put on my sad, library-lacking resume; plus, I'm really enjoying it. The people there are super nice and I find the shelving work very relaxing. They have me for a couple evening hours each week, though I'm hoping that I can eventually increase my hours -- then the next time they have a part-time page position open for hire they'll be all "Hey, that Brenna girl sure is a hard-working, enthusiastic volunteer! She's just the lady we're looking for, yes sir!" and BAM! Hired. That's my brilliant plan anyhow.

Over the past week, Mason and I have paid a couple of trips to various home hardware stores in an attempt to start planning out a tentative budget to remodel our very sad, ugly kitchen. No huge construction renos or anything, mostly just aesthetics -- painting the cupboards, new countertops, hardware, light fixtures, getting rid of ugly apple-print drapes, maybe a fancy shmancy new faucet~ I would love a new dishwasher as well (because it's getting to the point that our cat could lick clean our plates and utensils better than this silly machine) but that's a whole different time and budget all together. We've also picked out some paint swatches and have wonderful plans for when we eventually want to spruce up the upstairs walls. Very excited. (For the work to be finally done and finished, that is -- I am not looking forward to the actual physical labor of remodeling at all.)

FYI, the sexy Old Spice guy has managed to somehow defy the laws of awesome and become EVEN MORE AWESOME. They're putting out new spots (some of which that are quite hilarious) on their YouTube channel in which he personally responds to comments and questions from fans. This man is so awesome, in fact, that I have added him to my Hug Bucket. I bet hugging him would be like hugging every awesome person in the world at the same time, while listening to Journey, while standing in the the most beautiful sunny and grassy panorama, among the grand scenic backdrop of looming mountains made entirely of chocolate, immediately after being rescued single-handedly from a hoard of ravenous bears. Ooh. Not to mention my Hug Bucket would forever carry the wonderfully manly fragrance of Old Spice scented body wash.