Unfortunately, we now live in a world where anything can be bought, if the bag of money is big enough. Wildlife has now more than ever felt victim to this mentality with population numbers of every species, from lions and rhinos to orangutans and pangolins, dropping at a highly unsustainable rate, due to poaching and human demands.
People then decide to volunteer with good intentions of making a difference, spending anywhere from a few weeks to several months at an African game range or reserve to contribute to the further survival of many different majestic animals. Unfortunately, some volunteers don’t realise that they are doing the exact opposite. Too often they become part of an organisation that actually contributes directly or indirectly to the killing of the exact animals, they thought they were protecting.
The majority of people have now realised that there is an actual industry for wealthy people, who pay large sums of money to travel to African countries with the sole purpose of hunting animals, to leave with a trophy for their wall at home. While this is legal in some countries like South Africa, this demand for trophy hunting has across Africa led to another business also known as “canned hunting”.
Canned hunting is the practice of keeping exotic animals in captivity for their entire lives. It’s a practice which has become popular with big cats, in particular lions. When they are cubs, the owners make profit on tourists coming to pet and cuddle them. Of course, who doesn’t think that a lion cub is the most adorable thing? However, when these same lions become too big to be wanted for petting, they are locked up with a large number of other young male lions in cages.
Here they wait for the one day when a wealthy trophy hunter comes along paying a large sum of money. When this happens, a lion is ‘released’ into an enclosed area with the hunter, so he/she can “hunt” his/her new trophy. It is estimated that there’s only around 30,000 wild lions left in Africa, yet of the 10,000 lions left in South Africa, only around 3,000 of them are actually wild. Meaning that the vast majority of lions actually are captive.
First of all, if one is able to interact, pet or cuddle with a wild animal, you are already inhibiting it from ever being able to enter the wild. If lions are getting used to human interaction, they will not be afraid of them in the wild, which makes them vulnerable to hunters and poachers. Thus, it is important that you do your research about the place, where you are planning to volunteer, so these exact ranges eventually will stop being profitable. One place to see which organisations that you definitely can volunteer with – and the ones to absolutely to stay away from – is the Facebook page named: Volunteers in Africa Beware This page is created by people with no relations to any of the organisations they evaluate, and they do thorough research before placing a given organisation on the BAD or UGLY list. WorkingAbroad collaborates with several of the ones on the GOOD list for our volunteer projects including:
Kariega Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa
Shamwari Game Reserve Conservation Volunteer Programme, South Africa
Limpopo-Lipadi Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, Botswana
Wildlife Conservation & San Bushmen Community Project, Namibia
They all do incredibly important work with large animals, including big cats.
So if you ever have the desire to work at a wildlife reserve like me, do the animals a favour, and do your research before you decide where to put your money, time and efforts. If everyone starts making informed choices, the people who profit from grossly exploiting wild animals will gradually become out of business.
By WorkingAbroad blog writer Charlotte Laursen