Would you rather work for a circus or for a zoo?
What is it in the human psyche, when it is confronted by a problematic situation, to create a narrative to interpret that situation, and then to turn that narrative into a popular notion, often so popular that people tend to believe it even if it flies in the face of common sense.
Animal activists in Europe discover two lionesses in a German circus where they claim the big cats lead a life of misery. The two are “ rescued”, transferred to a support facility, and then the problem begins. What does one do with two large carnivores who must be housed and fed 24/7?
Enter the first actor in the narrative-creating exercise, the Born Free Foundation in South Africa, followed closely by the second actor, its patron who is also an acclaimed singer and TV star. Seeing that such an eminent organisation and entertainer have taken an interest in the fate of two circus lions, other actors fall over their feet to join the fray, and become clowns instead of actors. Ultimately, all contribute to the same narrative, and eventually a deluded public start believing the story. A leading manufacturer of offroad vehicles also join the swell, amplified by the undertaking of a leading African airline to fly the two cats from Europe to South Africa. There Nirvana awaits them as they are released into a protected, fenced-in enclosure at an award-winning game reserve which hopes to add the felines to their existing menagerie. This is fantastic for tourism, but it forgets that this specific game reserve only survives behind electric fences and that it is a major irritation for its neighbours, all commercial farmers. Counting all the elements to create this seductive narrative, it becomes apparent that these two cats must be the most expensive lions on the planet. The cost for relocating the lions must run into the millions and would have been impossible, were it not for all the actors (clowns) who somewhere along the way decided to add their voice and support to this ridiculous exercise. Let us consider some of the facts in a rational way. There must be dozens of lions across the world working in circuses. This is not a glamorous occupation if you are a feline, but you are housed and fed, so much so that circus animals typically suffer from obesity. If they are hungry, they tend to eat their tamers. There must also be hundreds of lions kept in zoos and even by private individuals as pets. Are we going to rescue them all? None of them are Born Free and none of them will ever see the wild, even if it is only a large camp where they still have to be fed daily. The human imprint on all these individual animals is so strong that they will never become wild lions again. In effect, they are only pets, and will remain so. Next we must not fool ourselves about the value of any individual lion, free or captive. There are dozens of so-called lion breeders in South Africa’s Free State Province and in the Noordwes Province. If the game reserve had a shortage of semi-tame lions to parade for an unsuspecting, gullible tourism industry, they could have sent a bakkie a few hundred kilometres north, and pick up as many lions as they wanted.
The fact is that this so-called rescue operation is a charade. It does not help conservation one little bit, it only soothes the sensibilities of over-sensitive hypocritical tourists and self-proclaimed animal protectors. And it was an utter waste of a whole lot of money that could have gone to real conservation, were the do-good narrative not so powerful. And for the conscience, so comfortable to believe in. Lions are animals that live in prides. Their social system only makes sense in a pride and they are an ecological contributor, only in a pride. Furthermore, lions need and eat prey, that is, other animals, so they themselves harbour not the faintest humanised feeling for either you, or the antelope, or the domestic stock they catch. They are creatures of the wild and they are wired like wild creatures.
It would have been a much better solution to have shot the two lions to relieve them of their misery in the circus. But then you have to go around to all zoos and other lion keepers, and shoot these animals too. Now, it becomes more painful to confront reality. Then instead of wasting all that money, it could have been given to a reputable conservation agency in Namibia so that we can look after and protect the real lions in the real wild. After all, this is where all lions originally came from.
Do-gooders often undermine conservation, not support it. There is only one group who scored, the line-up of ridiculous actors who jostled for the opportunity to exploit two poor lions to create their own narrative. All this claimed in the name of conservation, but actually only for commerce.