Recently there has been an increase in tourist activities in which we can interact with wild animals. Of all these, one of the most dangerous and harmful to both humans and animals is interaction with large cats.
Taking a souvenir photo during our holidays with a tiger or a lion is becoming easier and easier, and although it is some zoos that practice it in Europe, what is really worrying are the businesses that have been established in some countries of Africa and Asia, and that lack guarantees for the welfare of animals as well as for people.
That’s why I’m going to talk to you about some reasons why interactions with big cats are something that should never be practiced, and even those of us who work with these kinds of animals don’t do it.
Does interacting with big cats promote their conservation?
One of the first excuses for those who use big cats in their interactions is the fact that they are educating the generations. Under the excuse of “Know to conserve” there are many who try to justify that taking photos with a tiger is conservation.
There are several studies that have shown that interactions and photos of people and wildlife have two effects: when we see a wild animal near a person we tend to think that it is a less dangerous animal, so it makes us believe that they are good as pets.
“Playing” with a lion
On the other hand, it has an even more shocking effect. How is it possible for anyone to interact with a rare species? When we see these kinds of images or attend these kinds of interactions, we tend to think that the main animals are not threatened.
We must bear in mind that felines such as lions or tigers are seriously threatened and are disappearing from nature. For people to think they may have them at home or that they are not threatened is dangerous in order to guarantee wild populations, fight illegal trafficking or seek funding for their conservation.
Does interacting with big cats harm your well-being?
The fact is that although we do not care about the conservation of these animals, this kind of interaction is detrimental to the welfare of the animals. In the first place, because a real wildlife sanctuary or a centre that cares about its animals does not carry out these kinds of activities, so they will be enterprises with poor facilities and poor welfare programmes.
But a more important reason is the handling that these dangerous animals require in order to interact with man. In some places it has been seen how the animals are drugged, while in others they are chained so that they cannot move or even have their nails removed through a procedure known as desungulation, illegal in many countries.
Centers of tigers and their photo of rigor…
In general, when we interact with these kinds of animals, they are offspring, since they are not as dangerous as adult animals. But where do they come from? Normally, even if we are led to believe that they are orphans, we are talking about animals that have been prematurely separated from their mothers.
The premature separation of these animals from their mothers has an impact on their welfare, however they are the perfect excuse as animals will be socialized with people and will be more given to human contact.
Interactions with big cats, linked to environmental crimes
Surely many of you are thinking, as you read this article, of the famous tiger centers we can find in countries like Thailand. In these kind of centers it was discovered that there were hundreds of frozen corpses, ready to be used for traditional Chinese medicine.
This has not only happened in Thailand, but on European soil, places have been found where tigers are slaughtered to sell their parts to China. Research in the Czech Republic linked the breeding of circus tigers and tiger interactions with large cats to their use in Asian medicine.
Another typical image in tiger centers
Another country under the spotlight is South Africa and other regions of the African continent, where false lion sanctuaries have existed for years to cover up canned game businesses. In them, interactions with lions are just one of the “productive” phases of these once-adult cats, which are too dangerous and are hunted for money or even exported to China to serve Asian medicine again.
As there are fewer and fewer tigers on the planet, these canned game businesses are exporting skeletons and lion parts to Asia, especially those animals that are not impressive enough to be hunted, such as females.
Interactions with big cats and safety. Is it dangerous?
But probably one of the most shocking things about these interactions is how you skip all the safety measures you should have when working with these animals. The big cats are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet, and in many sanctuaries only the most specialized personnel work with them.
These animals would normally have the most security measures to prevent them from coming into contact with people. In many centers they have two workers to check all safety measures, and even keep rifles to safety in case there is a leak.
Not at all friendly gesture
The world zoo association itself, like the sanctuary federations, insists that those who work with big cats cannot come into contact with them. Why, then, do certain companies profit by allowing these contacts with visitors in exchange for money?
A simple internet search allows us to see how big cats are one of the animals that cause the most deaths in captivity. Even the offspring are sometimes the protagonists of incidents in this kind of centres, where a bite from these animals can be very dangerous.
Big cats are dangerous, endangered animals that must live with their species. Using them as an accessory for our photos or as a means to earn money is unethical, so I strongly encourage you not to engage in interactions with these or other wild animals.