Stop the exploitation

Kirsten’s diary

My name is Kirsten and I would like to share my personal experience with you.

Before you pay to volunteer with animals in South Africa, before you gleefully tell your friends that you are going to play with and cuddle lion cubs please read my story which will be posted on this blog site.


I had to find out for myself – posted 18 April 2012

Sometimes, with all best intentions in the world, we do more harm than good and unfortunately I had to go through this experience in order to fully understand the extent of exploitation of large predators that is being allowed to happen in South Africa. Fortunately meeting two very special young lion cubs changed my life forever and I am just so grateful that with the help of some really great people their story will have a happy ending. Unfortunately this will not be the case for many other lion cubs that crossed my path while in South Africa.

Young Sassy.

Inherently I believe we all have a desire to do good, but beware!  The people we sometimes trust as “animal protectors” and certain volunteering marketing agencies tell us what we would like to hear. Volunteers like me get told a story that is neither true nor in any way accurate! Those with a vested interest in short-term financial gain manipulate the truth, distort facts and assure us that it is all in the animals’ best interests.  Sadly volunteers either do not know any better or simply don’t care.  So many of us are seduced into funding the suffering of the very animals we adore.

When you scratch below the surface you find a million questions with the most unpleasant answers. Those who we have believed and trusted to be the “animals’ protectors” are shown to be callous profiteers and the animals’ best interests are of little or no concern to them.  The more you investigate and learn of these projects the uglier the truth becomes.  Only one certainty presents itself over and over again; the animals are the losers in a cruel game they can never win.

I always adored big cats and grew up on a healthy diet of everything and anything to do with the Adamson’s of Born Free fame. I had spent quite a bit of time in the different African countries and liked to think that I had a clear of idea of how Africa worked.

I was offered the opportunity of volunteering at a lion and tiger breeding project recently and after asking questions and getting no definitive answers I decided I would go check it out for myself.

I presumed that the lion breeding and volunteering industry was regulated and therefor also presumed that South Africa would protect the pride of Africa; their lions. I was under the impression that the hunting of captive bred lions (known as canned lion hunting) was stopped years ago. I never expected to find out that the new South Africa justified this horribly industry under the banner of sustainable utilization and allowed operations that clearly prostituted and exploited their wildlife.

From the start nothing added up. Why was this large South African based volunteer company dodging my questions? When I asked where the lion cubs that were bred on this property go, nobody could give me a straight answer. I wanted answers. I wanted to see for myself what was going on. I simply could not believe the horror stories I had been told and to be totally honest: Yes. I wanted to cuddle a lion cub and maybe a tiger too so off I went on a mission to find the truth!

Upon meeting the owner of the breeding facility I immediately became suspicious. Especially when I was told by an Afrikaans woman who happens to be the owner’s wife that they breed and sell lions as guard dogs.  When I said that I could not believe what she has just told me she said that “this is what we do in South Africa”. Up against this type of crooked logic I could only surmise there was no truth to be found in anything the farm owners told me, and if I wanted the truth I would have to uncover it for myself.

The fake over friendliness; the ridiculous stories and the pretenses of caring for the animals at this project made me feel sick to my stomach.  So many lies were peddled to volunteers to convince them to donate time and money in order to prolong and spread the animals’ misery. In the space of few short weeks I saw volunteers come through who had been there several times in the last 12 months. They loved playing with cubs, believed all the lies they were fed and were systematically brainwashed that this was the very best place for the animals. The whole charade was emotionally extremely distressing for me.

What upset me most is when people visited and played rough with the cubs, yet if any of the cubs scratched or bit them, they would be disciplined by ill informed unqualified volunteers. Such close interaction between wild animals (that are never truly tame) and especially young children would always be a recipe for disaster.  Several attacks took place during my stay, however it was always viewed as being the animals fault, and changes were never made to keep the animals safe from the public.

I remember an instance where some stupid local young men were encouraged to drink to in excess at the in-house bar, and then given permission by the owners to go and play with the cubs. The young men always took up this offer and stormed the half-asleep cubs yelling and yahooing, grabbing them and throwing them around.  During one of these incidents some of the volunteers heard what was going on and rushed the enclosure, ordering them out. I overheard them boasting about their previous hunting experiences, and how they could organize to shoot a lion via this particular farm. They joked about which cubs they would shoot. Apparently there was more bragging value in shooting the white cubs. Although I wanted to vomit, I listened quietly to what the locals thought and knew about the farm. Then their conversation turned to what they considered the most sought after trophy kill – the Liger (born when a tiger and lion cross-breeds). Apparently this poor creature had recently overtaken the white lion in the hunting stakes and was in high demand as a hunting trophy. How in the world could any misguided volunteer say this was the best place for these cubs?

Following this incident some of the cubs developed marked behavioral problems. What was once the most placid cub developed a really aggressive streak, and quite out of the blue would go from being affectionate to growling manically and latching on to volunteers inflicting as much damage as possible. It was like a huge post trauma reaction triggered by petting. However the poor cub was then just branded a problem animal avoided as much as possible at feeding times and viciously struck on the nose to get him to release his grip. This was a no win situation for the cub resulting from a man made problem.

I saw beautiful baby tigers, so cheeky and full of life reduced to ripping each other literally to shreds in displays of extreme violence and frustration they’d never displayed before. All because the farm wanted to keep the volunteers happy, and the volunteers wanted to swim with baby tigers and have photos and videos taken of the event. The psychological effect caused by these tiger cubs being taken separately one by one and dunked into a large deep swimming pool with volunteers was heart breaking and no one cared or noticed.

Volunteers with mental health issues were frequent at the farm, people who had recently been institutionalized for their own good, those with a diagnosed and medicated mental health illness. Some were terrific with the animals and showed a true talent for caring and working with them. However there were those who did not. They hurled large objects, yelled abuse and went out of their way to incite fear in any and all they came in contact with, whilst the staff did nothing to curb their outrageous behavior or protect the animals and for the most part the manager thought it was all worth a good laugh. These disturbed individuals would menace other volunteers, some themselves with mental illness. This resulted in some of the worst bullying situations I have witnessed and recurrent screaming nightmares in the scared recipients.

Why on earth did I stay? – posted 19 April 2012

Given the goings on at the farm, you may well ask why on earth did I stay there for a whole month a whole month?

For one reason and one reason only. I fell hopelessly and totally in love with the most beautiful, innocent and totally vulnerable lion cubs, and though it was torture to stay I could not possibly leave without them.

A few days after I arrived we were told that someone was bringing in 6 unwanted baby tigers, their age was unsure and all other details sketchy.  When they did arrive the volunteer who received them said expectantly “These are the six tiger cubs?” and their owner, looking her up and down like a “silly foreigner” said “Lion cubs, they are lions”. The cubs were literally thrown off the back of a bakkie (open vehicle) that they had traveled in open and unprotected from a nearby property. I was there as they scrambled like sad, lost, undernourished, scared little sheep into the pen. Some were much larger than others however they all shared rough unhealthy coats and were quite obviously starving.

As the bakkie (open vehicle) reversed into the pen gate I saw her face and my heart was lost, cut free from my body and spirit. My heart went out to her and I knew, in that instant, that part of me would always belong to her, it was a given. Some people talk about meeting friends and lovers that they feel they have known before in a past life type of scenario, all I know is that when I gazed into her sad, soulful little eyes I was lost and knew I must save her.

Immediately I saw her, we moved towards one another and I picked her up, I immediately knew her name was going to be Sassy. She snuggled into my arms, light as a feather as she was all skin and bone, and we just gazed into each other’s eyes. It was one of those ‘time-stood-still” kind of moments, like in all the places of the world we had been drawn together for a reason. I’d always passed “love at first sight” off as a silly Hollywood Movie notion, something cheesy and unreal, now it slammed into me with the full force of a Tsunami and washed me away.

She was quite bald all over, had skin infections under her legs and between her toes, all the fur on the front of her head had been ripped off and was bleeding. She had scratches and bites all over her bare furr-less body. All the others were bigger and stronger than her and had obviously pushed her around. Her little stomach showed the bloating that comes with malnutrition, and she was very, very weak, suckling meekly on my finger. Despite all this, all I could do was marvel at how beautiful she was as she sat in my arms and looked deep into my eyes.

From our first meeting on I was on a mission.  I didn’t know how but I had to save her, I swore to myself I would not leave without her and I would do whatever it took to get us both out safely. This poor precious little creature had no hope in life at all, might not even make it through the night for all I knew but I knew she was a fighter.

I knew she wanted to live; she exuded huge strength of spirit despite her miserable situation.  Without rationalizing it any further, I made the decision I would do whatever necessary to give her the opportunity of a safe, happy, healthy life. I didn’t know how I would do this, just that I had to do this and I would give myself no room for failure as she was depending on me.

The other cubs – posted 22 April 2012

There were 6 cubs in total and along with their ill health they were accompanied by a multitude of lies with regards their history.  They were from one litter, they were from 2 litters, they didn’t know where they were from. There was one wearing a tag around its neck “because it is the only boy”, however it turned out they were all girls and we never were really sure what the tag meant.

All the cubs condition was poor however little Sassy and one other were by far the smallest and most vulnerable.  The other cubs were much larger, possibly older and definitely stronger.

We bottle-fed them and it was impossible not cry.  I get teary now just remembering how wrong it was to see cubs their size so very starving.  The normal one bottle-feeds did nothing to fill up the two smallest cubs, Sassy and her “sister” as she became known.  I pushed for and achieved a one and a half bottle feed for them, as one was just not enough and two may have been too much and made them ill. I desperately wanted to help them in particular as the bigger, possibly older lions, though not in good condition, were robust enough to pick up quickly however these two poor little “sisters” were in serious trouble.

The unhealthy pot bellies, the dreadful diarrhea, the skin rashes and constant threat of a serious bite or scratch from the bigger cubs, it was all a recipe for disaster in such young weak cubs. I had lots of experience in caring for domestic animals and wildlife at home, but not in Africa.  I had no experience to rely on in rehabilitating young lions, and even if I did I could not get to town to buy anything.

Volunteers were told that trips to town were at the very least available weekly however it was nearly impossible to get off the farm unless you were in the good books with the “Park Manager”. You would be told it was a working farm and that you would have to write a list and give it to someone who was going.

We had to move the cubs from the pen they were off loaded into to another enclosure on arrival, as the mature tigers in the next pen there may have killed them in the night.  I had picked up and held Sassy in my arms from when she first stepped off the bakkie, so I carried her to the new pen she was to share with her 5 “sisters” and 7 other lion cubs who already lived there. I tried to keep her warm with my body, as she was painfully thin, and had no real coat to speak of to offer warmth.

That night I prayed, like never before, to every god and deity I could think of, wishing that Sassy would survive the night and that I would take her away from this hell on earth to somewhere she could live in safety for her life. I offered years off my life as a bargaining piece, anything “Just please let this little one live and let me give her the life she deserves”.

I never heard cries like this before – posted 24 April 2011

The following day’s breakfast feeding brought home just how poor their condition was. I had never heard cubs cry for food like this.  Theirs was a frenzied unending wail, accompanied by desperately aggressive behavior. They had obviously been starved, and had to fight each other for any meager sustenance. The disgusting details of exactly what they had been through would later become clear.

The diarrhea Sassy and her small ‘sister” had was just shocking, and no amount of bottle-feeding seemed to fill them up.  No volunteer wanted to feed either of them, as feed time brought on a manic aggressive episode, making them quite scary for their small size and condition. I can only liken their behavior to that of rescued puppies, who can display severe aggression when starved and mistreated.  To ensure these little cubs got their feed I would have to do both of them together (other volunteers deemed them to “nasty” to get involved), and try to somehow teach them not to rip each other to pieces in the process. As soon as another cub came near them at bottle time they would lash out with a force quite beyond what seemed possible for their emancipated frames. The other volunteers were scared off and did not know how to handle this.

I marveled at the cubs desire to survive, desperately trying to devise methods that would be helpful to them and not bring them to the “Park Managers” attention.

Any animal that fell out of favor was in trouble – posted 26th April 2011

Animals who fell out with the “Park Manager” were on a short trip to a long hell. Any cub that injured her, no matter how minor or accidental, was black listed. These cubs she would brand “troublesome” or of “poor temperament”, she would inform the owners, who supported her assessment without question and the cub would probably end up in one of the “forgotten” enclosures. The “forgotten” enclosures were so called as they had large numbers of animals with basically no future.  They would sit there with no vet care, if seriously ill were shot if they were lucky, being fed on scraps for food.  They also served as entertainment for the volunteers.

When a  “chicken run” was declared volunteers were encouraged to attend and they would compete for space to watch the lions feeding.  This entailed volunteers in the back of an bakkie being driven into a lion enclosure full of approximately 50 wild or hungry or both, lions. Chickens would be thrown off the back of the vehicle and the sides banged with hands and loud yelling used to keep the lions from attacking the volunteers. It was promoted to the volunteers as a great experience, and they were encouraged to take photos or videos. I witnessed some occasions where volunteers were allowed to participate in the chicken throwing. This was more dangerous as the lions centered in on the spot where their food was coming from.

Normally the chickens and volunteers shared the back area however sometimes a large vehicle was used, and the chickens were on an adjoining trailer. There was never any form of firearm for protection, however once a handgun was fired in the air to scare the lions back from the volunteers, we were told it used live rounds as a means of protection. A volunteer who was fresh from the army later told us it was definitely just using blanks. These dangerous drives were done into the “forgotten” camp of lion and tiger, and also into several camps of “wild’ lion.  With around 50 individual big cats in each of these camps the large risk to volunteers was never acknowledged.

 The park manager was a total joke – posted 28 April 2011

The “Park Manager’ was, by all best assessment, a total joke. With her too tight shorts and trousers, ridiculously over made up face (like something from the rock band Kiss) and over revealing tops, she was a sight to behold. She showed no talent what so ever with animals.

Generally the poor creatures spent their time trying to get away from her, however if she branded them a favorite they were well looked after and protected.  Alternatively to fall from favor with her carried disastrous consequences, and there were animals of all ages right through the operation enjoying less savory conditions after falling from her grace.

Right from the very start she decided that she did not want her “beautiful” cubs to be around a creature she deemed as ugly as my Sassy.  She would call her names, try and get her food given to other cubs, and generally make trouble.  She made it quite clear that she felt “the two small ones” were best left, as they were weak and not good for anything. “She’s just so ugly, she really doesn’t look right,” she would mutter about Sass.

The smallest thing would be blown out of proportion and used against the cubs. As these cubs had left their mother’s very early, probably somewhere in the first few weeks if they were lucky, they had special issues.  My two little ones in particular and the larger ones they were with to a lesser degree, would seek comfort in pretend suckling on each other’s ears. They used this method to get off to sleep and obviously it comforted them.  No doubt filling some sort of gap too, for the many times they were not fed and went to sleep starving.

When the “Park Manager” found out about this ear sucking she was outraged; this cant go on, it makes the other ears look messy, it’s not right.  She then seemed to take a great interest in the two little one’s feeding, next thing you know she had declared them both too aggressive and I could not sleep for the possible ramifications.  It would be just too easy for unpopular cubs to just disappear… I really felt helpless and useless.  I had to do more for them…they needed a safe “forever” home, and the sooner I could get them away from here the better.

On several occasions I had to hold back from really telling her what I thought of her just for the sake of the cubs. Combine every evil child’s fable character and you had a pretty good guide for her personality. However she was well trusted and believed without question by the owners, and when she told them my girls were aggressive they took action.  I had the owner turn up, out of the blue to see me feed them.  Thank the heavens above they were so good, all the hard yards had paid off and they ate well mannerly and were complete angels with her afterward.

Other than divine intervention I still don’t know how we managed to pull this off.  At that stage they were still learning that aggression wasn’t necessary to get fed, and every feed time brought back so many bad memories for them that it was just like dealing with severely traumatized children.

Sassy would be very snarly and quite happily take your hand off, but not realize she was doing it.  It was like all the starvation and ill treatment had caused this wall of terror that flared up around feed time. How those poor cubs had suffered. She wanted to be cuddled after a feed and just clung to me, quite often falling asleep in my arms.

Sassy’s sister would not allow anyone to touch her during and immediately after feeds.  I learn’t that I was just to feed her, speak calmly to her and let her come back down to earth from her terrible memories. If you tried to cuddle her at the wrong time it was like she was reliving abuse and you were the attacker. When you tried to stroke or physically comfort her you just made it worse for her, she was trapped in her nightmare and she would approach you when she could cope with contact.  At that point I would give her as much physical affection as she would accept.

To see these cubs at such a young age and in such poor condition struggling with these tremendous psychological issues was heartbreaking for me. I just prayed for their sake I would get it right, and I did whatever I possibly could to make every feed time a good experience.

They were such well-behaved cubs that day that the owner actually let slip, a comment about how these two were not actually aggressive cubs after all. I was so thankful, not only had they passed the test but also they had charmed the owners which gave them some protection in this dangerous environment.

We want to buy cubs for breeding – 30 April 2011

The day after the cubs arrived we had a couple visit that walked into the enclosure and announced, “We want to buy cubs for breeding not hunting”.  In conversation it transpired that they had no experience with any animal, let alone lion cubs, and just thought it would be “fun” and make money.  The “Park Manager” was keen to off load as many of the new cubs as possible, especially poor little Sassy and her Sister. She emphasized that they would be cheap; I sat with my heart in my mouth listening to the conversation knowing I had to do something.

Then the conversation turned to eating habits and I could not believe my ears as the stupid “Park Manager” told this inexperienced couple that all of these cubs were meat eaters and therefore how easy it would be to look after them. She knew that Sassy and her sister would only bottle feed; they had no idea what to do with meat at all. She didn’t care – just wanted rid of them. If they were bought and taken to an uneducated home and only given meat they would surely perish.

I can only say I felt extreme absolute terror, I just could not allow the cubs to be sold off to god knows what sort of home where they would not even get fed! Fortunately the people settled on buying the two biggest prettiest cubs, however this served as a huge wake up call to me. I had to work out a plan to buy Sassy, it was the only way and given that she could be snapped up anytime by anyone I had to do something fast.  Given the way things ran on the farm I was worried not just that she might get bought but that she may get injured or god forbid worse, it was just such an unsafe unhappy environment for such innocent little creatures.

I had not told anyone of Sassy’s name, giving her a name was forbidden – they were to be known just as the group, they were not deemed special or permanent enough here to be allowed a name. So trying to call her anything would just make her precarious existence more fraught with problems.  In private she would snuggle into my arms and I would love her. I would use her name Sassy, and I would pray for a time when we would be safe and free together.

On one of the owners visits when she ridiculed and threw off at my girls terribly (telling me that Sassy looked more like a kudu than a lion) she overheard me refer to Sassy’s sister as Tiger.  This sparked a tremendous outburst from her where she declared that it was “a stupid name for a lion, what idiot would call a LION that, the cub doesn’t need a name, its not going to be around for long enough to need a name and that she didn’t even look like a “proper” lion so it didn’t matter”.

You see Sassy’s sister really claimed the name Tiger for herself.    On one occasion when The Park Manager insisted on feeding her and ridiculed her the whole time saying that she was just a ‘he/she’ meaning she was neither male nor female – she was just a nothing. Tiger jumped up (in true tiger cub style) and bit her on the backside with force.  One of the other volunteers commented “easy Tiger” and it put an end to the whole ‘he/she’ slurs which had been ongoing and just a way for the Park Manager to try and get at me.  The cub was always fascinated by the tiger cubs and would sit and talk to them and copy their chitchat. She then developed a habit of chatting to everyone and anyone like a tiger cub.  Those tiger cubs were really cheeky, and always sneaking up behind someone and playfully grabbing them from behind, this little lion cub, undernourished as she was, developed a habit of doing the same.

Also like her striped relatives she loved to ambush and jump on your head.  I disagreed with the owner and felt she did deserve the name and also I felt it was a fitting tribute to her wonderful little tiger cub friends, who sadly would never get the chance to escape this living nightmare.

Under constant pressure to get them to eat. – posted 1 May 2011

To begin with my cubs would not eat meat at all, and I was under constant pressure to get them eating meat.  The Park Manager would hint that their inability to eat meat was an indicator of some serious underlying health problem to back up her accusations that they were a lost cause. I really wanted them to start eating meat just for the fact that it would give them the extra vitamins and minerals that they so desperately needed to get their health back on an even keel.

Every time I offered them meat, regardless of what type, they turned their noses up, as if I had offered something most disgusting.  I racked my brain to try and come up with some plan to bridge the gap and at least get them to try meat.  Hand mincing the meat into tiny pieces, mixing it with milk, trying to get them interested when the others were eating it, I tried everything.   I learn’t to skin and gut a chicken from scratch, selecting the best of the fowls, as a lot arrived rotten and full of maggots. I knew there had to be a way; I just had to find it.

I tried to get them to chase the meat – as a game, however meat was a scarce resource so I would have to be canny in my method.  I went down to the meat shed and got some pieces of cowhide; I cut these into small pieces and then put holes in them so I could attach them to a string. I had used this method for the young caracal kittens as an enrichment operation.  Their enclosure was small and boring and as they had been born and lived wild till their mother was killed they found the enclosure hard to take.  So by hanging rope with bits of hide attached to the ceiling of their enclosure it gave them something stimulating to play with to fend off the boredom. The Park Manager saw this as a waste of time and thought the hanging rope and hide was offensive especially with people viewing the enclosure. The animal’s needs and welfare were never given a consideration.

For my cub’s I then ran around like a total idiot in their enclosure trying to get them to chase the rope and grab and chew on the hide. I made it into a game for them.

I felt that if I could get them to chew the hide their natural instincts as meat eaters would take over.  Aside from me tripping over several times and coping heaps of ridicule from management and other volunteers, I persevered. All that mattered to me was getting the girls onto meat.

Finally one day the breakthrough came, the hide on the string worked and Sassy started to eat the hide itself. I found that if Sassy would eat it, Tiger would too. Not as much or as easily but once Sass settled down to a piece Tiger would want to join in and once she got the taste for it both their natural appetites kicked in.  I made more trips to the meat shed and got hide with more meat attached and gradually got them eating the meaty bits more than the hide. I was overjoyed.  Their overall demeanor and energy levels seemed to respond to the meat intake almost immediately.  I felt so proud of them, they were real little fighters. Life had not been kind to them, in so many ways, however they proved over and over again that if they were given an opportunity they would grab it with both paws and go for it. I could only admire their strength of spirit, and I felt morally bound to give them every opportunity possible to enjoy a safe, healthy, happy life.

 Life on the farm – posted 2 May 2011

Life on the farm was hard for all the animals. No one got proper care or attention and only the lucky “favorites” had much notice taken of their welfare.

Terrified caracal

There was a group of beautiful caracal cats; these guys are truly enchanting and magical to spend time with.  However allowing them to interact with the public was problematic at best and definitely not in the animal’s best interests.  On several occasions children were attacked, the cats just saw them as prey or felt threatened by them particularly when parents didn’t supervise properly and allowed children too close.

Of course in these instances of injury it was always viewed that the cats were at fault, The Park Manager always tried to blame one Roy cat in particular as this animal always tried to pee on her (animals are always a great judge of character). Any animal that caused problem or embarrassment to management was subject to payback. I still find it hard to imagine how these small minded, ineffectual people felt they had a right to negatively influence the lives of these beautiful creatures for the sake of petty grievances.

On one such occasion I was with my girl cubs and another volunteer ran to me breathless telling me that the caracals had attacked a child and asking what should they do.  All the management were away somewhere, and it was just me and the other volunteers.  I established that they had taken the child and its parents to one of the chalets to clean the wound, and that some volunteers were still with them now in damage control mode.  “Where are the caracals?” I asked. I was told that they had been left on the lawn on their runner (a runner is a metal wire device that they were attached to on dog leads and collars).  No one wanted to go near the caracals as apparently their attack on the child had looked quite savage and they were all too scared of touching them now. I asked the volunteer to please calm the parents as much as possible and stay with them and the child. I went to get the caracals back to their enclosure and try to settle them down.

When I got to the caracals and angry mob of day visitors who had witnessed what took place had gathered and were eying the poor animals with the look of frightening vengeance.  I quickly grabbed their leads and before I could get to them a man stopped me and asked me a question.  I still don’t know what he said, however the way he looked at the cats was unnerving at best, so I quickly apologized that I did not speak Afrikaans and grabbed the caracals who needed no encouragement to get out of there.

The volunteers said at the time they were never really sure which cat had attacked first, however The Park Manager arrived back and declared it was the cat that despised her. These two poor animals were dragged, mostly kicking and screaming, out to be displayed and petted by the public on the runner everyday. Their stress levels were through the roof, and this was further extenuated by the fact that the male was extremely sexually frustrated.  Sharing time constantly with a sibling, having other young females around but out of reach was driving him insane and he had started to pull his sibling’s coat out in large patches. There was another attack on a child a week or so later. Once more I was not there myself however I believe in this instance also the parents had been warned over and over again and taken little notice.  Yet when the child was attacked they were hugely indignant.

I wanted to protect these beautiful caracals from the public. I was forever finding people hovering over them literally, with cameras shoved right in their faces, flashes blinding them from point blank range.  If they truly were such “aggressive” animals they would have done more than attack a couple of kids by now.  Given what they put up with on a daily basis they showed extreme patience and stoicism with their pathetic treatment. Their situation was overall quite pitiful yet no one noticed or cared.

Another pair of caracals there was just taken away one day.  A large cave man looking pair of men decked out in khaki green turned up one day and said they were here for the Roy cats. No one knew anything about it except the “Park Manager” who told them which enclosure and left them to it.  In discussion one of these men told me quite proudly they were “game farmers” and had lots of white lion and lots of cubs.

Instead of allowing staff to prepare the cats by getting them used to the travel container in advance, it was all done last minute with no planning.  They decided they would dart the cats, and one of these “game farmers” promptly shot the travel case as he attempted to dart the animals.  When they did manage to hit the cat she escaped onto the roof and climbed around up there swaying dangerously for ages.  I don’t think the dosage used was correct as she took forever to even calm down let alone appear sedated.  The whole exercise was a ridiculous debacle that need never have happened if handled correctly.  The “Park Manager” declared that “when you work with animals sometimes shit happens” as her answer to the whole affair.

I missed those cats terribly, but more than that I worried for their welfare and what type of life they had gone to.  This episode only made my desperation to get my cubs out greater, as it had shown that at any time animals there could just simply disappear.  Off to any old owner, who was the highest bidder, with no consideration or thought even given to the life they would lead. The speed, secrecy and sheer stealth with which these transactions took place was chilling. I have to admit it scared me half to death to think that I could loose more of my beloved animal friends this way, however the thought of this happening to my cubs was just terrifying.  I would cuddle up with them in the dirt of their pen each night, soothing them off to sleep and trying to chase away their nightmares and praying fervently that they would still be there in the morning.

I cannot explain the feeling of extreme anxiety this gave me. I wanted so much to speak up for them and for the other animals however I knew I could not as it would only be detrimental for them.  I had to be the silent spy, hide what I really thought and felt, keep a low profile and just keep functioning for the sake of my cubs.

My emotions were constantly strained and raw, the only solace I had in this living hell was my two beloved little cubs and the good I could do for them and the other animals in my time there.  I would dream of sunrises and sunsets, with my two cubs held close and safe, in a good place, and this dream sustained me.

 Observation and love the best healers – posted 3 May 2011

For all the psychological trauma these cubs suffered, and the deep scars it left, I found observation and love to be the best healers. I spent time with them, allowing them to totally be themselves, really observing their behavior and then I would lavish them with all the reassurance, love and care possible.  I found that the other two large cubs from their group, that had not been sold, also wanted affection, they just had no idea how to interact with a human on that level.  I found that they could also be very gentle and enjoyed a cuddle; they had just never been given the opportunity to experience any positive relations with people.

Sassy wanted to be held from the moment we met however Tiger trusted no one and would only ever except affection from her sister.  When I started to concentrate on interacting with Sassy I found Tiger actually wanting to spend time with me also. She would be close by, always watching, always talking, but staying just out of arms reach.

Any attempts I made to initiate contact and interaction upset her greatly and she would retreat behind an aggressive façade she used to protect herself.  I had to patiently allow her to establish and control contact.  I have a very poignant photo that shows Sassy and I in a loving embrace and little Tiger is clinging for all she is worth to my leg. This amazing photo shows the turning point in my relationship with Tiger.  As the photo was taken, Tiger for the very first time ever, forcefully and quite definitely decided she wanted to be held also, and took the step of grabbing my leg and trying to climb up it.  She had never before established any form of close contact.

From that time on I would always sit down on the dirt floor with them both.  This meant they could both have equal share of my attention and lap, also it gave them equal access to flop on me and rub up against me.  Our whole dynamic changed from there and we interacted together as one. Volunteers and visitors alike would comment on how well we got along, and the more time I spent with them the more we seemed to understand each other. For all they had suffered at the hands of man, the pair of

them were just so loving and affectionate.  Their capacity to forgive and forget left me quite in awe.

I have to say regardless of whether the cubs are biologically related or not they most certainly are sisters in every true sense of the word.  They fight, they play, they console each other, and they always know the right way to handle each other’s moods.  Spending time in their presence has been a great learning experience, and I wonder everyday at how much animals can teach us.

Towards the end of my stay at the farm we had a visit from the woman who used to “look after” (I apply this term very loosely) the cubs.  The visit was very informative, shed light on the type of horrific life the cubs had led and made clear the reason for their emotional trauma.

She came into the enclosure and the cub’s reactions, all of them, the two larger ones and mine, were immediate and extreme.  The two larger cubs attacked her.  There was no play involved, and I knew from spending time with them they were quite capable of play, however this was just pure animal hatred as I had never seen before.  They remembered her without doubt and set upon her immediately.

I had never seen cubs display such absolute desire to do violence to a human; it was appalling to think what she must have done to them to spark such an intense reaction. As the details of this became clear I was revolted beyond words.

I offered to help her if she needed it however she just made out the cubs loved her, in between trying to fend off their frantic assault.  My two little cubs recoiled faster than I had ever seen them move.  Sassy literally ran backwards, something I had never seen before or since. She raced to me and started climbing my leg; I grabbed her up into my arms and held her shaking body close to mine.  Tiger grabbed my other leg and then hid behind me. I resorted to crouching with Sass in my arms and Tiger clinging to me also. They were both so disturbed by the sight of this woman. All I could do was concentrate on trying to calm and reassure them, as the larger cubs maintained their rage, relentlessly jumping at and on the woman.

For the two larger cubs when their prolonged behavior could no longer be explained as anything other than aggression, the woman started yelling at them that they would

“get the whip” over and over again.  The word whip inspired them to increase their efforts and I honestly thought they were going to bring her down. My two just stayed holding on to me for all they were worth, eying the woman with absolute terror.  I asked her what she meant by “get the whip” and she sneered at me saying the only way to bring them up was by using a whip to control them. I said I was not sure I had heard her correctly and she repeated what she said, stating forcefully that the whip was the only way to bring up lion cubs.

She said that when food had been scarce she had used the whip to beat away the little ones, (my Sassy and Tiger), as they were sickly and didn’t eat properly anyway, giving the big cubs a proper feed as they were worth keeping.  She stated this matter of fact and said she was surprised the little ones were still alive.  She added that they were always not well, the awful way she spoke about my cubs made me feel ill.

She spoke as if her sick logic was clear as day, and was quite matter of fact about leaving my little cubs to starve and die.  In that moment I wished the larger cubs had not only taken her down but also done her serious, permanent damage.  How could that creature dare to say my little girl cubs did not deserve to live because by her stupid standards they were not good enough?

Shortly after this she just had to leave the enclosure.  The larger cubs had not given up their repeated strikes on her, and she retreated literally torn clothed and bleeding. I have never seen such extreme obvious dislike and total abhorrence displayed by animals.  It left me wondering how absolutely dreadful their life with this monster must have been.

I cannot begin to understand the crazy thinking this woman operated on to somehow rationalize that my two cubs were, in her opinion, not worthy of life. I feel strongly that when we tolerate this type of sick perverted thinking we allow mankind to fall prey to a type of cancer that denigrates and adversely affects us all. After she left I held my two little ones close, and swore I would not let them be hurt or abused like that ever again.

Volunteers were never asked any mental health questions before acceptance onto the farm, The Park Manager said it was a waste of time asking as they would just lie anyway.  One young man who came had mentioned he had been institutionalized for his own good not long before and explain how he was so much better now.  However during his stay his treatment of the animals was appalling and management just turned a blind eye as they wanted the business.

He would yell and scream loudly at animals he didn’t like, God help any of the cubs if they scratched or bit him, accidentally or otherwise.  There was a particular young cub, who was known to be quite spirited. Now if you didn’t enjoy working with him or didn’t feel comfortable with his personality all you had to do was say so and just work with any of the other cubs. However I saw this disturbed young individual grab the cub by his leg and fling him off his lap with great force exclaiming loudly “He hurt me!!”. The Park Manager was sitting next to him at the time, and frankly was just too scared of the young volunteer to do very much. She meekly said, “We like to handle them gently”. To which the volunteer said, “ I didn’t do anything, he fell off, it’s not my fault”.

Anybody with any sense would have controlled the interaction between volunteers and animals, and animals and the general public for that matter, with some basic rules that were in place for everyone’s good.  Such a concept seemed far beyond the mental capabilities of any of the staff, and they would just assign blame to someone else when things went wrong.  I was told of an occasion in the last year where a middle aged woman had been pinned to the ground and mauled quite badly when in an enclosure with young lion and tiger cubs.

Despite their tender ages, it needs to be clearly understood that these animals are predators. To underestimate them can create situations that should never be allowed to happen.  If humans are to captive breed these animals then surely it is our responsibility to ensure they enjoy safety and good health, and to protect them from instances where they can be hurt or do harm to others.

This particular volunteer attacked several other volunteers during his stay.  One girl who said she had Aspersers was bailed up by him with a large stick that had a pointed end. She begged him not to throw her into the pool, and he said he was going to anyway regardless of what she said or did. She sobbed; he picked her up and threw her in. I was too far away to help and knew I was not strong enough to take him on as he had attacked me a few days prior, leaving my leg swollen and I hobbled for days.

The Park Manager witnessed this attack, however she passed it off as “a bit of fun” and said not to make a great deal of it.

I witnessed the whole thing, and appealed to a staff member to intervene however he just shrugged and walked off.  Every night after that the girl would scream and moan loudly in her sleep, “No!” and “Get away!”. It was so loud it woke us both up, and she had never done this prior to his attack.  The farm was a place of total disorder and suffering, no one, not the volunteers or the animals were safe.

Goats were clawed by lions through inadequate fencing, sometimes with fatal consequences, baby lions only a few weeks old and already removed from their mothers, escaped enclosures roaming dangerously close to full grown tiger, lion and leopard and older lions nursed injuries that went without vet treatment.  Sadly I couldn’t save all these beautiful innocent animals, and truly it broke my heart day after day and still does. All in all it was an animal welfare nightmare. I found the day-to-day goings on tremendously distressing, however I had to hang on for the sake of my cubs.

I had no idea what was involved in buying a lion cub, I knew that you had to get a lion-rearing permit to raise one, and I believed you had to be a citizen to be eligible for this.  I had no close friends here, very few contacts and limited Internet access. However the Internet was a good place to start, I just had to be very careful with my Usage. I was warned that management constantly checked the computer history to see what websites and contacts people had been in touch with, and I was also told never under any circumstances to risk writing anything down as peoples belongings had been searched in the past. A diary was out of the question as one volunteer had already been ordered off the property and threatened with legal action after her’s had been found and read.  Just using the computer was at times difficult, as it was positioned so that your screen could be well viewed and read from anywhere in the room, and to use the internet was a magnet for people to come and check out what you were doing.

I contacted Tony Park the author, who had been a great source of information and a huge shoulder for me to rest all my concerns on this trip.  He mentioned Kevin Richardson (The Lion Whisperer), whose book he had co-authored, and said that he might be able to give me some advice.  That was it. That was my starting point. I emailed Kevin and explained the situation asking for whatever help, advice or contacts they could give. I explained the situation was desperate.

Kevin’s wife Mandy came back to me and explained they were not taking anymore cubs on, however she suggested I contact a place called SanWild and speak with Louise. I risked a very quick Internet search and liked what I saw and read.  A place for the animals owned in Trust by the animals, where they could never be hunted or sold or traded.  That was exactly what I was after, somewhere that would provide the cubs with a safe “forever” home.

I realized that realistically taking them back to Australia was going to be an extremely long, hard, costly process and not necessarily in their best interests.  The whole rehabilitation back into the wild process, in Africa, was at best very complicated and lengthy, again also very expensive. Of foremost importance to me though was what did I feel was truly best for the cubs.  What was really in the animals best interests in this situation?

I’m sure that I had read somewhere it was illegal to rehabilitate captive bred lions (like my two) back into the wild in South Africa.  Even if possible the risks to the cubs at trying such an exercise seemed very high.  At best they may be accepted into a pride and be treated badly for the rest of their lives, that’s if they didn’t get killed fighting in the meantime.  Even if it could be done successfully, a life in the wild presented great risks with hunting and poisoning of wild lions on the increase.

This is one of the saddest and most frustrating parts of this whole captive breeding saga for me, where do they go?  Even if you have the funds and the resources to get cubs like mine out of these horrible breeding farms, where can you take them?

I know that some established and respected wildlife groups say you can’t buy cubs from these places to save them, as you are then perpetuating the whole industry by investing in it.  I understand their logic, truly I do, however there was no way on God’s earth that I was going to let that principal, however logical and well meant, condemn my cubs to a lifetime of suffering.  I would not hear of it.

All the way through this process I had people say to me; there’s hundreds of lion cubs in bad circumstances, like your two all across South Africa.  Sadly, now I know, beyond doubt, that’s true. However just because we have a huge problem, that’s difficult to fix and at best, very distressing to deal with it does not give us the right to ignore it.  These animals are relying on us and no matter how great and long the struggle we have to fight for them.  They can’t do it for themselves.

I visualized morning and night a beautiful sunrise/sunset with me holding Sassy and Tiger close, all of us safe, well and happy. I felt the sheer joy that this scene evoked in me, and I clung to it. Though each day brought challenges, quite often tears, and way too much fear, I held on tight to my vision of us in a place of safety.  It was this vision and my love and belief in the cubs that got me through.

Honestly some days I really felt I was trapped in a recurring nightmare, there was always some new threat or intrigue to battle with, I didn’t know exactly when we would be able to leave, the owners were always hinting at changing their minds about selling the cubs to me, and animals were disappearing off the premises at an alarming rate.  Sassy and Tiger helped me find a strength inside myself that I had never known before, so for all that we have been through I am forever indebted to them.

You really never knew what each day would bring on the farm.  One occasion a pair of young lion cubs only a few weeks old ran away

They had already been “pulled”. This is the term they use for taking the babies from their mothers. They say it is “a clean break” for the mother and the cub, and the best option overall. However from what I witnessed this is not the case. It just provided the owners with cubs for petting, which they drew profit from and put the female lions back into estrus so they would start breeding again as soon as possible.

I saw lioness in ongoing distress and cubs disorientated.  I saw cubs of a few weeks old being fed incorrectly by volunteers with no real idea what they were doing. At this young age the cubs need to be toileted by their mother, getting inexperienced volunteers to do this led to either constipation or the cubs being rubbed raw.

These particular cubs, at a few weeks old, escaped their enclosure, which had obviously not been maintained or checked regularly and went off for a ramble through thick bushland full of deadly snakes.  The tract of land they wondered through for hours unnoticed bordered a large enclosure with many full-grown tigers and lions, who would have killed the cubs. On the other side of their escape route were two young adult leopard, encroaching onto their space would have pelt a ghastly end for the cubs also.  The cubs took themselves off to be close to some other cubs they had bonded with.

It’s amazing how strong their drive and instinct was at such a young age.  They had been taken from their mum, yet they were determined to get amongst their own kind and went to great lengths to achieve this.

They were then relocated close to the enclosure where their mother paced endlessly calling for them.  She heard them calling to their other cub friends and with the other lioness’ maintained a sorrowful vigil. She could just get a glimpse of them, and definitely could hear them.

Given that most of the electric fencing on the farm was never turned on (regardless of the size or number of lions and tiger it enclosed), I’m truly surprised the lioness didn’t go through the fence to get to them.  I remember how one of the owners always used to leave the main security gate open when they went amongst the enclosures. He said it was pointless closing it, as he might have to run back up and through it if the animals got out.  He obviously had no faith in the fencing, and knew most of the electric parts were not activated. However volunteers were expected to lead tours of the public through this area several times a day. No one gave a thought for any of their safety.

I’ll never forget how lost the little cubs seemed just after they were taken from their mothers.  The owners would award the duty of looking after these cubs to whoever was in favor with them at the time, regardless of suitability for the job.  Over and over again volunteers would say they had no idea what they were doing. Whilst the poor little cubs went from being on proper mother’s milk to a cheap thrown together mixture, based on cow’s milk, devised to save money for the owners.

Sadly this is the type of animal abuse volunteers are funding and abetting when they sign up to these cub petting/lion breeding projects. Once the cubs outgrow their petting use the females are used for breeding, or in some cases hunting or sold off to any old buyer.  The males are churned into the canned hunting industry, with a very small number being kept for breeding purposes.  Places like this have little or no proper record of stud lines, which means that “in breeding” is inevitable. Given that these cubs are taken from their mothers at such a young vulnerable age and given such a poor diet they are extremely susceptible to genetic faults becoming more pronounced as they grow.

The constant food shortages for the animals on the farm were just ridiculous.  There would be no meat, and a load of decomposing maggoty chickens would be obtained from the battery hen farm.  Mostly we were told by the Park Manager that they had died of Ecoli bacteria, however what this would do to the cubs or for that matter the volunteers (who were skinning and gutting them with no gloves) was never even considered.

Running out of meat was, in itself, ridiculous, as they owners had acres of various game and beef cattle surrounding the property.  The only time I ever knew them to shoot their own animals to provide for their big cats, regardless of how desperate the food shortage, was once when one of the owners wanted to take a female friend hunting to impress her. The cats were given the antelope as an afterthought.

There would be no milk or eggs, staples for the mixture they made up and called formula to feed the cubs.  Volunteers regularly donated milk and eggs to see the animals get fed. I was told on a number of occasions by the Park Manager the only way my cubs would be fed was if I provided the milk and eggs myself.

On one particular occasion the volunteers made a mistake and fed the bizarre cows milk, egg, gelatin concoction that they called formula to the wrong cubs. This caused another staff member to throw a tantrum and declare that none of the cubs would now receive “formula” again.  I was devastated. I knew the mixture made there and called formula was not great but it was the best thing available on the farm.  If anyone really needed it my girls did.  They were taken off the “formula” mix, with no adjustment period and just put straight onto cow’s milk and egg yolks.  There was nothing I could do. Fortunately the staff member involved did sometimes save some of the “formula” mix for my girls to have, but this was occasional and more than anything I think somewhat a guilt reaction to his angry decision.

In the midst of all this, a couple of young cubs, just taken from their mother had nearly been savaged badly by the farm dogs.  I still get upset when I remember the Park Manager laughing as she allowed the cubs to bite and claw at the dogs, making them sit there and not allowing them to get away, until they responded by going for the cubs throats.  In the end I intervened and ordered the dogs out.

It was becoming impossible for me to keep my mouth shut; yet one wrong word could make the owner change their mind, so I bit my tongue a lot.  The inescapable fact was that life on the farm was far from what any animal should experience, and that no one, not the animals or the volunteers were safe or well looked after there.

There had already been a group of young drunken idiots celebrating a buck’s night stay at the farm.  One of the volunteers was expected by the owners to stay up late serving them at the bar by herself till all hours. Fortunately another staff member stayed on with her, they were too much for a single female to be expected to handle.  They were really awful drunks and spent the whole night trying to brake into our rooms, banging on the doors and trying to force them open.  I heard them as they started to wander down into the cub’s areas after the bar had shut; fortunately they were kept out of that area by another staff member and a really great guard dog.

I had agreed to purchase the cubs; the owners had reluctantly agreed to sell them to me.  Thank god for Louise at SanWild, with her help and that of her friends we had a chance. They would look after the permits and paperwork and the girls would be free to start a new life. You cannot begin to understand the complete utter joy I felt when Louise came back to me and said she would give the girls a home!    It was everything I had been praying and hoping for.  It’s not like falling in love with a puppy or a kitten or even a horse that you can structure your life around, and work out ways to accommodate and provide for. Lions have needs that are way beyond any domestic pet, and I think this whole petting industry fails to see or provide for their needs as wild animals.

SanWild would give the girls the opportunity I wanted for them so badly but could not provide for them myself.

It was just a case of waiting for the permits to come through now.  Believe me I was an absolute nervous wreck by this stage, trying to keep up the charade whilst protecting those you loved, not just my cubs but all the other animals there too.  It was hell.

Just a few days prior to us leaving the owner came for a visit.  They had a lot of visitors through and she wanted every animal available for petting as she wanted to make the most money possible while people were around.  I was trying to feed the cubs and she came waltzing into their enclosure with half a dozen or so people.  One of the children came up and I asked her to wait until after I finished feeding before she try to pat the cubs, immediately the owner sprang at me and the cubs “No she can pat them NOW!”.  The owner was prone to verbal outbursts, liked to throw her weight around, and whether it was animals or people she was dealing with she was a bully.

The cubs scattered, running between my legs and hiding from her behind me. She then started to say they didn’t need the feed, as they were obviously not hungry. I tried to explain they were just not used to having strangers around them while they fed.  I knew they were hungry – they were always hungry. Meat had been short and they had been getting by on milk and egg yolk alone for days.

A little boy approached Tiger and picked her up, I had my heart in my mouth, as she was getting better at allowing people to touch her but tended to get scared and this could make her aggressive. Sassy curled up around me, she was not letting me out of her grasp.  The child must have had a good heart, as Tiger was quite calm and allowed herself to be petted.

After this the owner grabbed at both of my cubs, trying to pat them roughly and shake them around at the same time.  She was trying to provoke an aggressive reaction in the cubs to give her an excuse to hit them, in front of me and the people there. As if to show off to the people there she was in charge and I think too she wanted them to think she was good with the animals.  The cubs ran from her, jumping up at me to be held and sheltered.  She was furious, you could see the fire coming out of her ears.

You can’t just barge in with a couple of lion cubs who have been severely mistreated and expect them to accept you.  Especially when you come at them with raised voice and angry manner when they are feeding.  Anybody who knows anything about animals would easily understand this.

She was so angry I thought she was going to hurt the cubs in front of the visitors.  Through her own stupidity she had embarrassed herself, however, true to form she viewed it as being the cubs fault.  She would never forgive the insult she viewed the cub’s behavior to be, I had to get them out of there fast before she attempted something else.  That was the pattern on the farm always – whatever happened it was always the animal’s fault, people never took responsibility for their actions, and the animals always suffered for it.

That night I had nightmares; I just had to get my girls away from that terrible place and out of that ghastly woman’s clutches.  I swore to myself that the girls would never have to suffer being manhandled and mistreated again.  I could not allow them to be treated like play things, they are lion cubs not toys and for all that they had been through they deserved to be respected and loved.

117 responses

  1. Anne

    What is the situation now with the two cubs?
    Great and moving story

    May 8, 2012 at 16:55

    • Both cubs were purchased by Kirsten from the breeder and donated to SanWild where they will remain for the rest of their natural lives; protected and loved for what they are – two great little lions

      May 8, 2012 at 19:26

      • Kerry

        Thank God these two babies got out. My heart breaks for those that are not so lucky 😦

        January 28, 2014 at 07:36

      • Thank you so much for this unbelievable story. ❤ I love Kirsten and the two cubs she saved, and I love the people who helped Kirsten and the cubs and San Wild Lion Rescue. Thank you so much! My heart broke several times while reading this blog. This made a lasting impression on me.

        Yours sincerely!

        May 4, 2014 at 09:12

      • Terri Mattison-Davis

        After reading Kirsten’s Diary , and then at the very end to read this wonderful news , I feel a little elevated .. Thank you

        November 14, 2014 at 21:48

  2. Glenda James

    I am so relieved to hear this story from a volunteer’s side and by getting this story out we can further educate the public, and the world, on the lion situation in SA. Hopefully there’ll be a worldwide outcry which will put pressure on our government to change the legal, but unethical practices.

    May 8, 2012 at 19:10

  3. Paul Rankin

    A very moving story. Is there nothing in SA regulation t control these types of malpractice?

    May 9, 2012 at 16:05

  4. Natalie Cilliers

    Is there anyway to state the name of the “farm” where the Kirsten worked? Surely this place must be investigated?

    May 9, 2012 at 19:55

    • Sadly Natalie what they do at this particular farm seems to be quite okay with the Free-State Nature Conservation authorities. We have spoken to the National department, but I guess nothing will be done anyhow. Breeding (abusing and exploiting) large predators and their smaller cousins seems to be quite acceptable in South Africa and more and more projects like this are given new permits to start up every day!

      May 10, 2012 at 05:36

    • Unfortunately Paul all this abuse is allowed to continue with permits from the South African conservation authorities that regard lions as mere commodities to be used anyway their owners see fit!

      May 10, 2012 at 05:38

  5. Kirsten what was the name of this place. I’d like to take this further.

    May 10, 2012 at 05:46

    • Chris Louise just emailed you.

      May 10, 2012 at 06:58

    • Virginia Buser

      Not a reply, but also wanting to ask which organisation this is, and whether you know which rehab centres are ‘genuine’ and which are not.

      Great work and perseverance!! 🙂

      May 17, 2012 at 17:11

    • cubbie ears

      I would also like to know the name of this place.. Please..and Louise? I can’t tell you how many tears I just wept reading this but thank you for taking these two little cubbies

      May 28, 2012 at 18:46

  6. Isaac shayne

    Thank u Kirsten for your involvement in these two precious cubs lives, you saved them!!! Thank u to San Wild! Plse let us know where we can send donations forhese two babies/teenagers? 🙂

    May 10, 2012 at 06:54

    • Dear Shayne, thanks for your kind words. Donations to SanWild for the care and feeding of the cubs can be made via their website or Donations with Paypal is also accepted, link from Just to give you an idea of how expensive it is to care for the cubs; the milk formula SanWild uses which is the correct one for lion and other large predator cubs is R1300 for a 5kg bag. Very expensive, but very good. Thanks for caring.

      May 10, 2012 at 06:57

  7. Thanks for the story and spreading awareness about this rotten industry that supports trophy and canned lion hunters. Who can a person write to to try and persuade our government to implement strict laws and ban trophy/canned hunting? Is it possible to get the name of this sanctuary so that I can send them an email?

    May 10, 2012 at 08:10

    • Div we removed the lion and tiger farm’s details to protect Kirsten; blowing the whistle on these disgusting projects we will do, but prefer to list a number of them on the individuals and projects exposed section as and when they come to our attention and we have firm proof that exploitation does take place.

      May 10, 2012 at 13:48

      • Thanks! Could you send me the link for the exposed section. I would like to see who on earth are involved in this. While I was in volunteering in the Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape a few years ago there was a place called, The Addo Crocodile & Lion Farm which had a reputation for letting people play with the cubs and then eventually the word got out that they were selling the cubs to farmers for this barbaric industry. I wouldnt be surprised if they are still doing it!
        What can I do as an individual to help? I would like to write to the government and put pressure on them to ban this industry and implement stricts laws for wildlife sanctuaries. Is there a list of good wildlife sanctuaries that you can recommend because from time to time I have people emailing me to find out which ones they can support? I already know Sanwild has an excellent reputation. Maybe one day, i’ll hopefully volunteer there. I would like to get a list of reputable sanctuaries and put it on my website VivaEcoAfrica. Thanks.

        May 11, 2012 at 04:27

  8. Linda Park

    Very well written Kirsten and I hope you publish this far and wide overseas where so many misguided volunteers come from. This industry is the most depraved and disgusting and what the animals have to endure would break any decent persons heart. Unfortunately there is so much money being made that getting it stopped is a mammoth task. Volunteers are compounding the problem as they bring foreign currency into the country to pay for the dubious honour of being a volunteer. I would ask anyone who visits these places to ask questions and please do not believe the stories about how the cubs were orphaned. Cubs are deliberateraly removed from their mothers so that the lionesses will come into oestrus again and produce yet more cubs to feed the industry. The psychological damage done to the cubs is huge. Please also do not believe stories about these places being conservation minded. There is no conservation going on here. The cubs can never be returned to the wild for they have never learned how to be lion from a pride. The are merely grist to the mill of an industry which brings huge shame to our country.

    May 10, 2012 at 08:50

    • Wendy nicklin

      It is the work of our pathetic government!
      They dont care how many permits they SELL! I am sure someone is making some
      good money on the side here.
      If anyone has contact with Carte Blanche PLEASE lets get this out in the open.

      May 11, 2012 at 06:46

    • Kirsten Allen

      Linda I am working on a book and want this published to raise awareness…I just cant live with the horror of what I now know goes on…we all have to do something…every little act adds up and whether it is sending an email or sharing a link it does bring change….I look at the cubs now experiencing the bush, seeing their first elephant…and think not just are they lucky to be alive but how wonderful it is to see them enjoying the bush. I owe so much to Louise and to Drew who gave us this chance. Without them I dont know what we would have done.

      May 12, 2012 at 09:18

  9. Carol Harnwell

    I am outraged that there is no law for this type of animal abuse, surely our SPCA could do something or even better if @ cannedlion what about Carteblanche, they often do investigative stories of this nature… wow this must have been torture just to watch for a month, shocking shocking may the truth get out and this place CLOSED and all these poor animals rescued.

    May 10, 2012 at 17:46

  10. Hi Kirsten – huge respect and love to you for writing this. It is a huge issue and I am sharing your message as far and wide as possible. I need to speak to you about something, so please would you inbox me at as soon as possible? it is really important and will be of great interest to you as well. Thank you and bless you for this. Steffie x

    May 10, 2012 at 18:10

  11. Gina

    Let us all remember that it is TOURISTS AND TROPHY HUNTERS who provide the impetus for the South African Lion Industry.
    Every time a foreign visitor squeels with delight at a photo they’ve just taken of a rare lion sighting in a park – THEY FEED THE GREED!
    Every time you oooh and aaah at some friend’s macho story about his big hunt and the mane pinned up on his wall – YOU FEED THE GREED!
    Tourists need to get savvy and stop demanding lion-flavoured-everything, because in poor countries the tourist always gets what the tourist wants.

    South Africa is (despite it’s own government’s PR campaigns) a desperately poor 3rd world country with soaring unemployment and mind-numbing levels of poverty.
    The corruption, greed and depravity you read here is the tip of the iceberg; one heart-wrenching symptom of a society that has forgotten about the beauty of it’s own land just so that men can chase money.
    Will the government stop it? They won’t even stop old farmers being bludgeoned to death in their own beds at night!! GOD HELP THE LIONS!!

    May 10, 2012 at 20:00

  12. I have heard about this kind of canned lion hunting but never knew that this was so rife here in our country. The story was very heart warmingly told that I just could not take even 5 minutes break to get myself a cup of coffee. I cant believe people can be so very cruel and have no feeling for these wild animals. Loved all the photos – at least the photos brought a smile to my face. Do hope these so called farms are closed for good.

    May 10, 2012 at 22:11

    • Kirsten Allen

      I’m glad the photos made you smile, and please rest assured the cubs are doing really well now, they are both healthy and have proper coats for the first time in their young lives. The other day they watched their first elephant and were amazed. Its priceless being able to enjoy these experiences with them.

      May 12, 2012 at 10:30

      • cubbie ears

        Kristen… thank you for having the courage and intelligence to manage to get those babies out of there.. If you can I would love to know the name of this place so that we can avoid it.. We have a small pride of humans who are very dedicated to African wildlife and are always wishing to know where to donate and how to help.. You did a very wonderful thing.. thank you

        May 28, 2012 at 18:54

  13. Thankyou for bringing this awful industry to the attention of the world! What is happening is quite horrendous and needs to be halted!

    May 10, 2012 at 23:02

  14. brendalindon

    Thank you Kirsten for your bravery and dedication to these two babies. As a South African, I am ashamed at how our priceless heritage, our beautiful animals, are being exploited, abused and murdered by people, all for making a few bucks! It’s disgusting! My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to you, Kirsten, and to SanWild for saving these two precious lives, regardless of any personal and financial costs. You restore my faith in humanity. Bless you, Sassy and Tiger. May their story help many others. SanWild, you have my support. Brenda

    May 11, 2012 at 07:38

  15. Delilah

    I would suggest asking Carte Blanche to make a story and seriously investigate this. Very sad to hear how some people treat animals. God, in the Bible, commands us to take care of the animals under our care. One of the signs of a righteous man, the Bible says, is that he takes care of his animals (see Proverbs 12:10). Even the animal of an enemy was to be treated kindly: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him” (Exodus 23:4). One reason God commanded His people to rest one day out of seven was so their animals would be refreshed (see Exodus 23:12).

    May 11, 2012 at 08:12

  16. This is horrible. Thank you Kirsten for speaking out. Thank you Louise for getting involved and so glad to see that Chris with CACH is aware of this awful place.

    I have grabbed the link to this story and will broadcast via multiple media… the word must get out. Volunteers must be alerted and this horrible practice of canned hunting must be stopped.

    May 11, 2012 at 16:40

    • Kirsten Allen

      Thankyou for spreading the word Margrit. It means a great deal to me. i feel it is so important that we inform people of what is going on and where the volunteer dollars are really going. You know I had brainwashed volunteers telling me that the farm was the best place for the girls (cubs) and that if I took them away they would die…it just goes to show the level of absolute misinformation that is being fed to and believed whole heartedly by the overseas volunteers. I want to publish a book about the whole story, which will get the word out too but also provide funds for Sanwild. In all honesty if Louise had not been prepared to come to our aid I dont know what we would have done. We need to influence people’s thinking and bring understanding that wild animals can never really be tamed…and shouldnt be. I find the expliotation and thinking that supports it sickening.

      May 12, 2012 at 09:56

      • Sheryl key-Moore

        I thank you for this story. Please publish it over the internet for all international volunteers to read as they consider organizations to volunteer with. I have a place I would like to discuss with you where I volunteered in South Africa with lion cubs.


        June 5, 2012 at 02:24

      • Sheryl you can email Louise Joubert on

        June 5, 2012 at 05:58

      • Kirsten, I loved your very sad story, but at least it had a happy ending. I would love to proofread your book for free. I noticed you had some punctuation issues in your blog, which didn’t bother me; I just want to help get your message out. I know your posts were a couple of years’ old, so if you’ve already written and published your book, then please let me know where I can get it. If it isn’t yet in print, please accept my offer. You are a wonderful, kind person. Many blessings to you and your animals for all you have done.

        December 9, 2014 at 15:44

  17. Darren

    Thank u Kirsten for this truly heartbreaking story,how you managed to control your anger is a testament of your love for these beautiful animals,how these people still get away with doing this truly amazes me,i will be posting this and sharing to get the word out,an i would also like to say a big thankyou to Sanwild for saving these to beautiful lion cubs

    May 11, 2012 at 17:55

    • Kirsten Allen

      I’m not a very angry person however injustice to animals really does make me mad. Trully I was quite nutty by the time we got out…it was just so hard trying to protect the girls but having to stay quiet to do it, when all I wanted to do was really give the idiots running the place a piece of my mind. Thankyou for sharing and getting the word out…thats a great help as the more awareness we can raise ultimately its less funds going to this wretched place via misinformed volunteers. i will be forever greatful to Louise for giving the girls (cubs) the opportunity to really LIVE!

      May 12, 2012 at 10:03

  18. Amanda Mileson

    Congratulations Kirsten, not only for having the courage to bring public attention to this horrendous, vile practice, but more importantly, for having the guts to actually DO something for at least two of those poor animals….I know it must hurt desperately that you can’t rescue all of them, but I think that any level-headed animal activist / rescuer / rehabber will know that its just not possible to save each and every one. What’s important here though is that you endured horrific circumstances and uncertainty in order to at the very least rescue two of them, and that’s more than can be said for many people.

    The world needs more people like you, and you have won my admiration and respect, and I applaud you for your bravery and determination to make a difference.

    May 11, 2012 at 17:58

    • Kirsten Allen

      Thankyou for your kind words Amanda. Honestly to look into the eyes of my girls (cubs) meant there was no decision to be made – I had to do something….I didnt know how but i knew I had to. I could just not tolerate the thought of how their lives would be at that place if they did survive there. I know its impossible to save them all but for me those animals all beame friends …the beautiful affectionate young leopards, the gorgeous caracals, the cheeky young tigers and the cheetah who used to listen to all my problems. And all of the other lion cubs and lion, they have 26 cubs at the moment and more due any day and I’ve heard that there is a litter of liger confirmed as on the way. I really feel I need to do all I possibly can to get the word out, thats my way of coping with leaving them behind I suppose. I putting together a book to tell the whole story, and trying to organise some media coverage for Australia too…volunteers from overseas have no idea the depth of danger and misery they are delving into with these places. We need to get people aware and outraged at what goes on…and educate them that what is wild can never really be tamed and shouldnt be.

      May 12, 2012 at 10:26

      • Kirsten how different to what you thought you were going to. You are an angel. I am so sick of animal exploitation. Humankind can be such a destructive animal. I wish I could help somehow. I just lost the Council election so may have more time on my hands soon…

        May 12, 2012 at 13:42

  19. Anne-Marie Neckebroeck Belgium

    I had heard about lions and tigers who are bred in South-Africa and are then hunted by the hunters. I believed it, but reading this moving story of Kirsten makes it really clear. What a government in South-Africa! Who allows this, who allows that this is legal!!!!!! And sad to read that there are so many people who do not care about these animals, it is more than a shame!!!!

    May 11, 2012 at 21:37

  20. Anne-Marie Neckebroeck Belgium

    And indeed, congratulations, Kirsten!! Very brave and I am glad that both cubs are now safe, the ones you loved so much, even if you could not safe them all, you have done everything you could for these two little ones. I am sure that the world will change and that people will have compassion with all animals, and that they will be inspired by someone like you, Kirsten.

    May 11, 2012 at 21:41

  21. Jenny Gevers

    Please expose the name of this place and the people involved. Surely such cruelty should be investigated and the perpertrators properly punished…

    May 12, 2012 at 09:01

    • Jenny sadly our authorities permitted this project and they are fully aware what is going on here; it has been going on for many years unchallenged. Read the section on this blog relating to individuals and projects exposed.

      May 12, 2012 at 10:16

  22. Kirsten – what Strength, Love, Courage and Perseverance you have shown:-) Thank you for your upsetting, very heart-felt and wonderfully written, caring article.

    Thank you for having the Courage to get your awful story to the awareness of the public … one’s experiences speak the loudest. What Special Love you have for Sassy and Tiger (and the others I know:-) … it must have been so difficult for you at times, witnessing all the cruelty (I abhor all animal cruelty: extremely upsetting) and perservering all you have.

    I’m so pleased to hear little Sassy + Tiger (probably not so little any more!:-) are secure and happy at SanWild: brilliant: very Well Done:-)

    I’m going to post this on my Facebook page … the least I can do:-) Please will you email me ( any/all links with everything to do with that ghastly place and if/when any progress is hopefully made to stop this atrocious behaviour. Please will you also email anything to do with what you have written about.

    Good luck and all the best regarding your book: maybe it’s published by now? … I can’t think of any other way to distribute your article … I know my animal-loving FB friends will also share it:-) …

    Your photographs are GORgeous: those 2 little ones will never forget you – or you them … this is what really matters in life:-) – you are making all the difference – thank you:-)

    May 12, 2012 at 11:29

    • Hi Cecily, we have decided not the mention the project in order to project Kirsten. The type of people that run these sorts of projects will most definitely try to settle the score as they do not like the skeletons in their cupboards exposed so we advised her against actually naming them, but the facility is known to us.

      May 28, 2012 at 13:12

  23. From reading more on SanWild’s site, I was horrified to hear about the reversal regarding the rhino ‘trade’: awful. It sounds as though SA is going backwards – and Botswana forwards in this respect.

    There’s nothing ‘kind’ when using mankind/humankind regarding these abhorrent specimens of the human race. I would like to think that you will be permitted to release and expose some/all the perpetrators in due course: the sooner the better … I realise they are in ‘authority’ – as awful as it is.

    Thank you again for exposing the barbaric/atrocious practices of these people: pity they can’t be lions’ fodder – maybe in another life … We need to broadcast the reality of the situation at the moment.

    Thank you too for all you have done and are doing: you are making all the difference to these vulnerable, beautiful creatures:-)

    May 12, 2012 at 21:13

  24. Hi Kirsten.
    I would also like to also share my story with you, I must say mine was not as bad as yours – the lions at the park I was at really fed well and were looked after, compared to your story. But the main question that I wanted to ask and what I started to see was that more animals’ cubs were brought to the park and that there was not enough space for all these lions. Those that were becoming older at age about 17 months were sent off to other camps on the property where they had no more human contact. I worried about what their future was.
    At the park I worked for almost a year the animals did have names; the thing that bothered me was that the lions were taken from their mothers at a very young age and the excuse was that the lions were at risk of dying should they stay with their mothers, and that’s what we were instructed to tell the public.
    Furthermore, the lion cubs that were from 2 to 4 months old were kept in a small enclosure with very little space to do much. I took some time to build a jungle gym for them to climb on – at least just have something and also threw in some of my rugby balls for them to play with. I spent as much time with them as possible, trying to keep them happy. In the mornings they could go for a walk but not a walk on the wild side more walk of punishment, if they did not go according to the route and on very long days of December, with people continuously handling them and take pictures – the cubs did not get any rest from all for this. I took it in my best interest to tell people, “No picking up, leave the cubs as they are and just pet them”. And with that, one cub got extremely annoyed and went for a young child; luckily I intervened as I could feel the cub’s frustration and see how he was suffering when he clung to me and bit down with force onto me – I could not do thing with about 30 people watching me. I had to wait for him to relax then I could get loose and had few minor bite marks and scratch marks but not anything serious luckily. It is amazing that there are actually so rare incidents recorded with this volunteering lion parks all around South Africa. The big Question remains how long will these kings of the jungle take the strain?
    And to take this thinking further, it raised the question for me, “why is nobody doing anything?” I went to the manager and said, “Time out for the cubs for 30 minutes,” and people where not impressed by this and so they had the typical human emotion of this “all about me” and not the animals. I call it blind and ignorant.
    The other thing that bothered me was that there was continuous buying of tiger and lion cubs and other rare animals just to please the volunteers that came to the park. Once the cubs are older they would be sent to enclosure and be forgotten.
    Later on I was called in by the owner to say that I am the problem – these animals’ behaviour patterns were getting aggressive because I was being too wild with them. And that is the reason for their behaviour. And keep in mind that this owner was never around to see how I showed only love and respect to these animals. So I argued and stood my ground and said I think you are wrong and oblige to what is really going on. Only to then be asked to leave when my contract ended.
    Knowing this I was heartbroken because she did not know anything of what I went through to help raise these cubs with love, affection and play and to be told I was the reason they are like this was very unpleasant. But I did not believe her – I knew I had deep connections with these animals and I would not stop there. I made a close bond with one of these lions cubs and as I went into the enclosure to him – he was bit older – I sat with him and cried my heart out and just held him in my arms and said I promise that I will get you out of here I will not let you be put in isolated enclosures to be forgotten and then sold to where ever? I spoke and just cried till the sun was well hidden. I set a goal that day and it hass been a journey that has brought me to an amazing place here at the Global White Lion Protection Trust (GWLPT) in the Greater Timbavati Region. The GWLPT operates with all the right reasons and shows complete respect to these animals that should be accounted for. I Know they have a future of freedom and also sanctuary here as there are very strict protocols, including minimising human imprint on all lions, and a total ban on handling any lions or cubs. We never approach lions on foot, only in vehicles and at a respectful distance. We only do this to check on their wellbeing and to spend some time with them, but their needs come first, not our entertainment. Also, the Trust regards the White Lions as sacred creatures (in the Shangaan tradition they are messengers of God), and does not engage trading animals – they believe that we are here to be the Guardians or custodians of animals, and that they do not exist for us humans to profit from or exploit them. One of the points the GWLPT Charter that all employees and visitors are expected to adhere to is: “Respect for nature’s laws and nature’s sovereignty at all times”.
    Thank you Kirsten for speaking out about your experience. Perhaps if more volunteers speak out about their experiences we can have an positive impact and bring an end to animal abuse and exploitation in South Africa. I’m sure you’re aware that Canned Hunting is a legal industry here in South Africa, and many of the cubs that are bred in the captive breeding programs and handled by the general public end up in canned hunting camps, to live in horrific conditions and to die the most horrible deaths. I have dedicated my life to learning about and protecting lions from operators like you have described.
    kind regards

    Divan Grobler

    May 15, 2012 at 08:37

  25. Suzanne

    Thank you so much for the much needed awareness. I have been looking for volunteer opportunities. After reading this I want to help more than ever….Please consider me!! Thanks, Suzanne

    May 15, 2012 at 16:33

    • Hi Suzanne – have a look at our website under the VOLUNTEER section and send us a letter! Love to have you …

      May 21, 2012 at 08:56

  26. raphilion

    Bloody hell.. This place sounds like true hell for any animal (And even caring volunteers) that step in there! I don’t know how you did it, Kirsten, but you managed to survive an entire month there. Thank you for saving those precious cubs! You may have gone through tough times, but what counts is that you did it for the sake of your girls.

    That farm-manager needs a kick to the knees and a big paw, full of sharp claws, to her face! I can’t believe how that place is still allowed to run under such disgusting conditions from both the facility and those volunteers and staff alike that don’t give a crap about the animals they are supposed to care for.
    Reading your brilliantly written story, makes me want to personally go to that farm, close it down for good and rescue the animals to be placed in a safer place. And do that to every other terrible place just like it. How do we make it happen? The government doesn’t seem interested in anything that doesn’t involve politics and money. Very sad that this kind of exploitation of wildlife is even allowed to continue at such a rate.

    May 16, 2012 at 16:32

    • Kirsten Allen

      The problem is with places such as this – they are operating within the law as far as breeding, petting, hunting, and animal abuse cases – such as I have documented are hard to prove…the other thing in this case is that if you look at Louise’s comments earlier on you will see that the powers that be are not prepared to take action. I wish we could shut them down and give a good home and proper care to all the animals there i trully do. For now if we spread this story to as many people as possible we can raise awareness and that is the first step towards change. I believe we can do much better for all these captive bred animals, who just seem to “fall through the cracks” to an extent when it comes to being saved and campaigned for…there are so few safe homes they can go to…and the costs of keeping them then are prohitibitive. I believe we need to demand a more ethical style of business from volunteering companies. Volunteering companies both here in SA and overseas sign people up for these places and make a fortune. The farms get a cut of the profit from volunteers fees and free helpers out of it. The farms also brainwash people into believing their ridiculous stories about saving the species via captive breeding, when in fact they are just raising lions to die in canned hunting. Its a most ridiculous and appalling deception…and its time these big volunteering companies were asked to explain their connections to these shady operators. Such affiliations may be legal however surely they have some form of moral obligation to uphold. Also I think its time for the the actual volunteers to get savy and start asking more questions, and doing more research. Dont believe the hype – check things out…do internet searches yourself….Demand truth from the volunteer agencies and then do the research yourself to make sure you get it.Theres no short cuts and its a sad business…the more you learn the more disturbing it is however we can not afford to let this rest. The farm my cubs came from has appx 26 cubs now and more on the way…cant we offer their offspring a better life? isnt it our responsibility to demand change?

      May 17, 2012 at 13:03

      • Hi Kirsten do you have an email address so I can discuss a similar project I’m doing?

        May 28, 2012 at 15:24

  27. Suzanne

    they say there is strength in numbers, so wouldn’t it help if there were more people willing to go and physically help? I have been a donater to different animal organizations for years and did go to Africa once, yes it was a safari, so I didn’t see what Kirsten sees but I am so willing to go and help.

    May 16, 2012 at 18:20

  28. Thank you Kirsten for initiating this excellent blog, and for the courage to tell your story with all the facts on the table. It is time for the exploitation of and profiteering from animals to end – the notion that “man has dominion” over the earth and creatures has been cruelly twisted to benefit the rapacious few, and they are not holding back from seizing all they can for their own benefit.

    We humans have a role which we have performed poorly – we are custodians, stewards, and Mother Earth has provided so generously for us. It is time we gave back and gave thanks.

    I work with Divan, the volunteer who has posted above, and can attest to the Global White Lion Protection Trust’s stringent Ethical Code. I have learned so much since working here, and feel privileged to be part of an organisation that honours the wonders and sacredness of nature, that gives thanks and works tirelessly so that the White Lions can not only survive, but live in dignity and without human interference.

    We have a volunteer program, so if anyone would like to come and learn about how to be a Custodian, a Guardian, a Sacred Activist for nature and the animals, do look us up – Sending you gratitude and blessings for the communication lines and activism you have opened up. Stella.

    May 17, 2012 at 13:46

  29. What wonderful writing Stella: really appreciated. You say it all with such vehemence and feeling – lovely words and so true. Thank you:-)

    May 18, 2012 at 00:44

  30. Suzanne

    Hi Stella! Thank you so much!!! Please let me know when is the most needed time so I can start planning and also the estimated cost? Thanks!!! Suzanne

    May 21, 2012 at 23:32

  31. Hi Suzanne – lovely to hear your enthusiasm! Please email Celia, our volunteer co-ordinator, or else let me have your email and I’ll get her to contact you. Celia runs an excellent program and will be able to answer all your questions!

    May 22, 2012 at 06:39

  32. Suzanne

    Hi Stella
    Thank you so email is I will also reach out to her as well..
    Have a great day! Suzanne

    May 22, 2012 at 10:40

  33. Just to update you all that the facility at which Kirsten volunteered is now looking for her to serve a summons to sue and try and shut her up! Amazingly how callous and guilty they seem. If I was them I would much rather just go and sit in the corner and shut up. Many other volunteers and television documentaries in South Africa have reported on this particular project. We warned Kirsten upfront that they will come after her; projects such as this one do not like people to talk about the skeletons they hide in their cupboards. I salute her for her bravery and courage to speak out about her personal experience.

    May 28, 2012 at 13:08

    • Ron

      With you every step of the way Kirsten – well done

      June 3, 2012 at 09:50

  34. We look forward to receiving new updates on this diary from Kirsten via email and will be posting as and when we receive them. She has moved on for a well deserved holiday and we will be keeping in touch via email. We trust she will return on a regular basis to check up on Jessie and Sassy.

    May 28, 2012 at 13:18

  35. Nikki

    Kirsten – LET them come after you. When they issue you summons, send them a thank you card for giving you a larger public platform. If they do decide to sue you, I will bend over backwards to get this not only in the local press, but in the international press too. It will serve them well to sit down and shut up. We will all rally the troops and stand by you. Do not be afraid of this bullying tactic. Use it to your advantge – it will only backfire in their face.

    May 28, 2012 at 13:34

  36. A message to all of you interested, The EXPEDITION Project ( is currently on the road seperating the real projects out there from the fake ones. If you have any details of any South African projects you agree or disagree with let us know so we can add it to our database and make a difference. Email us at or call 076 2012 365

    May 28, 2012 at 14:26

  37. Barbs

    Kirsten, you are very brave and when you need support people on here will round it up for you. It’s time for this vile establishment to be named and shamed. Keep posting, as much as it upsetting to read, we need to know about these places. I loved Sassy and Jessie before reading just from seeing a photo, now I love them even more knowing what they went through, two special girls save by very special women ❤

    May 28, 2012 at 21:24

  38. Tara

    Thank goodness for the kind loving few that can think beyond their own pursuit of daily pleasure and bring kindness into this sad world. With brave people like Kirsten , there is great hope for a better future. Don’t give up and don’t be discouraged fight on for these beautiful animals that were created for a very different life. No being deserves to be used and abused like this. Let’s find a way to convince the governments to do away with these antiquated and horrible policies.. Lets share this story with as many people as possible to spread the word as fast and as wide as possible. It’s our world, we can make it beautiful or a living hell as these poor cats have been subject to.
    We need to educate the public to respect the life these cats, predators were created for.

    Educating the public is a critical part. As people we must understand there is beauty in life as it was meant to be for these animals in the wild. We don’t need to see a predator cuddle up with a human or with our pets or make smily or funny faces at us to allow them to thrive and live on this planet. We need to respect and get out of the way and give other species habitats for survival on their own in the wild. Stop this pathetic practice the basis of which is greed, greed for money or pleasure, both of them in the end make humans ill and imbalanced as we’ll.. Love and peace and a balanced abundance for all

    May 29, 2012 at 15:50

  39. I would like to think that this has stopped now,great story but felt with sadness at how these wonderful creatures are treated by humans as wealth buckets with no idea how to even treat or look after them…trouble is if anyone got seriously injured it would be these these lions tigers or cats who would get shot or murdered and no blame would be attached to these monsters who savagely brought them to these hell holes and have no idea how to look after any wild animals but just want profit from what the animals can bring from visitors..absolute abhorrent…

    May 29, 2012 at 17:04

  40. Cub Care

    Hi Kirsten, if feel so sorry for you having to witness this, could you please provide me with the name of this place I would like to take this up with the authorities.

    May 30, 2012 at 11:02

  41. Paul Sennheiser

    Hi kirsten.

    What a truly fantastic story. It really moved me. When the world is at its lowest, people like you give me hope of whats left. Reading through this, I got the sense that you are very knowledgable not just about the cubs, but about most animals. It seems to me you have a real drive and ambition to give all the earths creatures the life they deserve. Were you the most qualified on the farm?

    How are the cubs now? They’re the most beautiful things I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and part of me believes it’s all because of you and your kind heartedness. This sounds like a terrible place, and should most definitely be shut down as soon as humanly possible. Do you have a book abut your experiences?

    You are a very beautiful woman, inside and out, and I hope you all the best in what you’re doing. If you need any help, I would be much obliged.

    Paul x

    May 31, 2012 at 22:17

    • Hi Paul, Kirsten is no longer at SanWild and continues her adventures in Africa. Both cubs are doing great and their physical condition has improved substantially. Kind regards, Louise

      June 5, 2012 at 06:01

  42. Paul Sennheiser

    Well good luck to her. I am so happy to hear about the cubs too.

    Can you tell me the name of the place as my granddaughter has booked a trip through eye to eye.

    Paul x

    June 8, 2012 at 15:25

  43. Kimberly

    I stayed at this farm. I too was utterly appalled by the entire situation.
    I was there in 2010 so it sounds as if it got worse which is quite unbelievable!
    You have sadly answered my question as to where all the lions where going.
    It would appear that when we stayed there it was a lot more secret as to what was really going on behind the scenes but definitely what my my gut feeling was telling me.
    I wish I could have saved my cub too! She was 2 months old and her name was Nala. She was the only one of her age so she was allowed to sleep with us volunteers each night. She took to my bed for some reason and I would have both Nala and Roxy the dog sleep with me each night.
    There were 6, 4 month old cubs and by the time we left, there were only 4.
    One had been sold to another farm, the white lion cub. And another sadly died two days before we left. For no reason! I had to cry and beg for Pieter to call the Vet which he finally did very reluctantly. It would seem his answer for any ailment was Vitamin B injections and Ingrid’s solution to a dehydrated cat was to give it milk!! the poor thing could not take milk and it was foaming around her mouth. I gave her water to which I Could actually her her take in as her stomach was so empty I could hear the water enter her gut.
    Ingrid screamed at me when she found out and insisted we give it milk! The lion died the next day and I cried and cried my heart out.
    We also had to witness tiger cubs being taken off their Mother’s within hours of being born and a distressed Jaguar cub taken off at 12 weeks.
    Pieter darted a tiger to tend to her wounds from fighting which we assisted with, we also darted a big old male lion to tend to his tumour on his mouth.I am now wondering why he did this if there was no future for these older cats. Still, this farm, two years later is bringing up more questions than answers in my mind.
    I could not wait to get out OFF the farm! It felt like Survivor Africa where we could not leave the farm under any circumstances. We had to insist on our weekly shopping excursion.
    I could start on the state of the facilities, the management, the lack of training, guidelines or any safety or security measures.
    The electricity went out three times and ruined all our food!
    On one occasion we were lucky that Ingrid was in a good mood and she fed us.
    We were unlucky one weekend when the Chalets filled up with guests and one group decided to drink for 48 hours straight and oggle us volunteers like were part of the display as well as keep us up all night.
    I want to thank you for speaking out about this farm!
    When the volunteer company called me for feedback, I just couldn’t do so as I just didn’t know what to think and was so astounded by what I had seen.
    Like yourself Kirsten I could almost write a book about my two weeks there and have so much more to say. I am also an Aussie and I wonder if we can get this into the public eye over here?
    I have learnt a new term today “Animal Pimping” and I think other people need to be educated too.
    At the very least your story has a beautiful and happy ending.
    I wonder where my Nala ended up? 😦

    August 21, 2012 at 02:23

    • Ron

      Hi Kimberley. You must have been there just after I left. Could you please email me, I have a few questions that I would like to ask you?

      January 9, 2013 at 15:47

      • Kimberly

        Sure Ron, please send me your email address .. happy to answer any questions … Cheers, Kimberly

        January 9, 2013 at 22:46

    • Ron

      Sorry, assumed it would go witht he comment. It’s Many thanks

      January 10, 2013 at 09:23

  44. wanderlustandi

    Hello, can someone please tell me the name of this organisation? I am terribly afraid that I am actually volunteering at the same place come November, and if that is that case I do not want to go at all. Thank you.

    September 10, 2012 at 01:36

    • Hi Bec, pls email Kirsten on A word of caution though; if you do love lions and care about their welfare you should not support any volunteer project where there is any interaction with cubs as you are most certainly fuelling the exploitation of lions and doing nothing to aid in their conservation and welfare. While people are willing to pay to “play” and interact with lion cubs they will continue to be forcefully removed off their mothers.

      September 10, 2012 at 03:46

  45. wanderlustandi

    Just emailed you. I knew that there was some hands on, but I honestly thought that it was mostly non-contact, and they were to be released, not sold on. How wrong I am. I absolutely refuse to work someonewhere that supports that, I’m cancelling my trip. Now just to fight with i-to-i and the airlines to get my money back, any tips?

    September 10, 2012 at 04:41

  46. Kimberly

    I think I-I travel have a LOT to answer for and should really be vetting and checking where they are sending volunteers and there money.

    September 10, 2012 at 05:02

  47. Glenda James

    At last, it appears that would be volunteers are beginning to learn the real truth of our captive lion breeding thanks to the brave volunteers who have decided to speak out. As for the agency through which the volunteers work, time they are brought to book too. I believe they know exactly what is transpiring at these facilities but still turn a blind eye all in the name of money.

    September 10, 2012 at 07:37

  48. Casey

    Hi Kirsten, we met today at target. I really enjoyed reading the rest of your story. The heartbreak you must have gone through throughout this experience must have been horrible but you’ve done such a great thing with your cubs. I wish they could all be helped. Hopefully we can get your story out there and raise awareness.

    September 26, 2012 at 14:00

  49. Thank you, I’ve recently been searching for info approximately this topic for a while and yours is the greatest I’ve discovered so far.

    But, what about the bottom line? Are you certain about the supply?

    November 13, 2012 at 00:30

  50. Glenda James

    Kirsten’s story is not uncommon for most volunteers to South Africa. Anyone wanting to volunteer at a wild life facility really does need to research the facility prior to volunteering. Many volunteers are too scared or traumatised to say much about their horrifying experiences but, at last, there are some who are taking the matter further and are warning the rest of the world as to what really does take place at this facilities.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:03

  51. Suzanne

    Hello..I plan on volunteering at The Global White Lion Protection Trust in the spring….any suggestions or information would be greatly appreciated…Thank you!

    November 25, 2012 at 17:51

    • Stella

      Hi Suzanne – Stella here from the White Lion Trust – we look forward to having you volunteer here! Spring is a great time to come …. For further info, please contact Hilary our Volunteer Co-ordinator:

      November 26, 2012 at 07:05

  52. “Kirstens diary SanWild Lion Rescue” ended up being a truly pleasant post, .
    Continue writing and I’m going to keep on viewing! Many thanks -Susie

    January 10, 2013 at 05:06

  53. Laura

    Well done Kirsten if only everyone in the world was like you x

    January 25, 2014 at 10:46

  54. Kirsten, thank you so much for this expose. For quite some time I have wanted to visit one of the African countries and was considering some of the volunteer places… I must be naive, but honestly it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me that I could be aiding and abetting animal abuse and exploitation! What a sorry-sounding place and soulless people… it’s heartbreaking to read your account of it. So glad you saved the two little babes… feel sorry for all of the others. Soul wrenching and heart breaking! Kudos to you!!!!!

    January 28, 2014 at 19:01

  55. Frances

    Well done Kirsten!

    January 29, 2014 at 00:32

  56. Tracy

    Thank you Kirsten . .for being such an amazing person!! It breaks my heart that this country is so primitive . . makes me sick to my stomach!! Those babies have you to thank for their happy lives now. You are awesome!!

    January 29, 2014 at 06:36

  57. Ron Thompson

    Sadly the babies came to an untimely ending, albeit not because of human involvement. At least they were given a chance. There are still many other animals all over Africa that need our help and raising awareness is one of the main things that need to be done. There are a few very interesting tv programmes on the subject available on YouTube and there is more to come in the next few months. Watch this space. Once again, well done Kirsten!

    January 29, 2014 at 16:32

  58. Anshuman

    Glad I found this! Was planning a trip to RSA with the missus later in the year and petting the lions was amongst one of the ‘to do’ things. Well, no longer: thank you so much Kirsten for highlighting this. And kudos for writing this and for your courage. I will certainly pass this link on to as many people as I can. People need to be made aware of this abhorrent ‘petting industry’.

    January 30, 2014 at 06:35

  59. Pingback: Global March for Lions – Why People Are Marching | Condofire

  60. kim wieburg

    ………….. Bless you and gratitude Kirsten………….. xo

    February 2, 2014 at 22:05

  61. john plum

    Kirsten, you have a lot of patience and understanding. I commend you for that. I could never go to Africa and experience what you did-I would end up in one of their prisons after bashing in a lot of peoples heads.

    February 3, 2014 at 02:48

  62. My heart is pounding after reading this. Big cats and wildflife protection has been a deep passion of mine since I was a young child. Although, my area doesn’t cater to many opportunities for much involvement other than online petitioning and networking,
    My name is Racheal, I live in North East United States, working on low income, but this is what drives me. HOW and where and what can I do to further get involved and make change? Anyone with helpful info, pls message me

    February 13, 2014 at 19:12

  63. Priya

    Just read this now, thank you Kirsten for sharing this. I only found out about all this a week ago! Canned lion hunting.
    How are the cubs getting along now?

    February 23, 2014 at 00:24

  64. Louise Larsson

    Horrible story thank you for letting use know the sick world for so many lovely wild animals . We must stop this now

    March 2, 2014 at 10:03

  65. Toni Arnold

    Heart breaking story with an amazing ending lets just keep fighting to stop the stunning animals being tortured

    March 2, 2014 at 21:46

  66. Claire Cook

    Name and shame – come on………..

    March 3, 2014 at 13:42

  67. For everybody who has posted above… please, I beg you PLEASE be sure to attend the GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS – on March 15th 2014 – to put a STOP to CANNED HUNTING!!! The Global March is now taking place in 55 capital cities around the world… Johannesburg, Cape Town, London, Melbourne, Sydney, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Brussels… People all over the world will ROAR for a CAUSE on March 15th, 2014… be sure to stand up, march and be a VOICE for the LIONS 🙂

    To the truly amazing Kirsten, thank you for sharing the truth with the world 🙂 xoxo

    March 9, 2014 at 14:37

    • Priya Maeva

      Marching in London x

      March 9, 2014 at 21:18

  68. Awesome Priya 🙂

    March 12, 2014 at 15:10

  69. Pingback: The End of Canned Lion hunting | END Trophy Hunting NOW

  70. Pingback: The End of Canned Lion Hunting | END Trophy Hunting NOW

  71. Pingback: The End of Canned Lion Hunting | END Trophy Hunting NOW

  72. I am a zoology major intended on working with big cat conservation and I have been looking into volunteer positions, and figured I should look into different places and blogs to see what people have thought/experienced… I am utterly disturbed/shocked/sickened/saddened by what happened at this place. Is there anyway you guys could tell me where this place is or what it is called because I would prefer not to pay to volunteer at this place… in fact I would like to hopefully find a way to shut this place down once and for all!!

    May 4, 2014 at 10:32

    • Do not support any projects where you can interact with lion cubs; they are all supportive of the captive lion breeding and hunting industries.

      June 2, 2014 at 06:09

    • karina

      This is Boskoppie I think.

      January 17, 2015 at 10:53

  73. Rob Nkoyane

    Lovely lady Kirsten, bless you.

    May 7, 2014 at 15:42

  74. Jamie Trask

    It is nice to hear the truth of what really goes on in these places. Bless u for saving these beautiful girls. I wish we could save them all but that is sadly not the case. Thank u for sharing your story. Those awful people will get theirs at judgement day.

    May 27, 2014 at 23:30

  75. What a lovely post about lions. I really enjoyed reading this, although aspects of it make me sad, too. It seems the magnificent lion isn’t very long for this world- although kudos to dedicated conservationists for trying.

    October 17, 2014 at 01:07

  76. Roz Kennedy

    Hi Kirsten,

    I worked on a “Wildlife Ranch” in Canada and was completely unimpressed with how the owners viewed their animals – whether that was the 30 or so horses used for trekking and hunting, or the 7 dogs kept for hunting in sad, rundown, lonely conditions. I left after 6 weeks, realising that the owners felt nothing for the bears they charged foreign tourists to view and admire in the wild – because at the same time they charged tourists thousands to hunt and shoot these same bears! The hypocrisy was staggering. The staff working there are also charged for accommodation and meals, and encouraged to pay for “wildlife guide training” by people who have barely any training themselves. The blind lead the blind, and the volunteers help finance the operation. The revolving door of the staff turnover ensure that the vicious cycle of staff bullying, standover tactics and brainwashing continues, because ex-staff are so relieved and sometimes traumatised when they leave, that they just want to block it out, they never pursue it. I was even reluctant to name the ranch in any online diary or blog posts also, and I didn’t even have terrible experiences like some of the previous volunteers. If you stood up to the owners you never lasted long; they forced you out by making you miserable. The answer always seems to be unfortunately, that unless staff or volunteers somehow fund the improvement of an animal’s life on these farms, they will only ever be fed the bare minimum or left to fend for themselves with zero appropriate veterinary care. Remembering one account of the owner attending to a horse with a broken jaw still makes me feel sick.

    I applaud your deep sense of humanity and share your feelings of sadness at the depth of the problem worldwide. I believe we will see the end of Africa’s big wild animals in my lifetime. It’s so very wrong.

    Roz (in New Zealand).

    December 14, 2014 at 09:59

  77. karina

    I wanted to volunteer at boskoppie next year, but this changed everything. I can’t believe this. You inspired me and I actually want to rescue some cubs myself now. Thanks for your story and saving Sassy en Tiger.

    January 17, 2015 at 10:52

  78. jacalynbeales

    Thank you Kirsten for speaking up and telling your story; too many volunteers and tourists support the horribly unethical and exploitative industries in South Africa which quite literally breed and raise lions solely for making hunters & breeders a quick buck. The fact that others are reading your story and changing their minds about volunteering at unethical places such as Boskoppie, is such a wonderful and positive thing. Thank you sincerely.

    July 23, 2015 at 13:41

  79. Hi all please help ,read,share,and support us so we can save the lions and all other wildlife

    August 27, 2015 at 10:23

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