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FFrom African elephants, buffalos and cheetahs to leopards and exotic primates, South Africa is home to a wide variety of wildlife species. They're undoubtedly one of the many highlights of this beautiful country, attracting millions of visitors every year. As tempting as it is to have a one-on-one encounter with these incredible animals, do the responsible thing, and appreciate them from a safe distance.

It's important that wildlife should remain and roam freely in their natural habitat and not be confined to small spaces in so-called sanctuaries or parks that promote cub petting and rehabilitation centres. As eager holiday makers, everyone would like an adventure. However, sometimes that perception of adventure comes in the form of animal interaction and tourists flood to animal-petting centres. These centres mislead visitors to believe that they're promoting conservation and sadly, this is not the case.

Did you know that a wildlife institution should meet the mandates of conservation, release, education and wildlife awareness, and not promote the captivity of and interaction with animals? Unfortunately, there are many establishments in South Africa that do not adhere to this mandate and have been known to use wild animals for commercial exploitation. It's assumed there are roughly 200 facilities holding approximately 6 000 - 8 000 animals in cages and captivity.

Do your bit and stand up to against this practice! Avoid visiting breeding farms and captive facilities that offer animal interaction experiences. Well known travel organisations such as African Travel & Tourism Association (ATTA) and Thomas Cook have already voiced their disapproval by not offering animal encounter packages. South African Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, has said: ''South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on.''

Reasons to say NO to animal interactions include the realisation that breeding lions in captivity has no conservation value; captive-bred lions are tame and therefore unable to survive in the wild; fake wildlife sanctuaries easily mislead volunteers and visitors to believe that they're authentic and promote animal ecology and conservation.

According to Ian Michler (co-campaign leader to the feature documentary Blood Lions) over 100 of the world's leading safari and ecotourism operators signed up to the Born to Live Wild pledge in 2016. In the pledge, they're committed to:

  • Promoting the wildness of predators.
  • Endorsing responsible and authentic tourism destinations.
  • Giving support to the legitimate conservation community.

Dr Simon Morgan, Director of Wildlife ACT Fund, says: "We applaud all of those that are willing to stand up and be counted, ensuring that tourism income and volunteer efforts are directed to true conservation efforts.'' If animal lovers would like to volunteer at animal centres, it's best that you contact a conservation agency for a referral to a recognised operation.

Rise up. Be part of the movement - say NO to the exploitation of wild animals. It may be thrilling to touch them, but you must know that it is even more exciting to see them thriving in their natural habitats on a proper safari.

 

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