World Lion Day: Leading voluntary placement company commits to ensuring ‘animal friendly’ offer in wake of Cecil the Lion death

(FOUR PAWS Press Release) One of the world’s leading gap year and voluntary placement providers, Projects Abroad, has publicly committed to doing more to ensure that its international projects are in no way connected to animal cruelty in any form.

The decision follows lengthy discussions with international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, which has warned that thousands of people in the UK may be unwittingly working on projects linked to the canned hunting industry, under the guise of ‘conservation’ projects which claim to benefit wildlife.

The trophy hunting and canned hunting industries have been in the spotlight in recent weeks, following the illegal killing of beloved Zimbabwean lion Cecil, who was lured from a protected area and shot by a US hunter.

The news, which has outraged animal lovers and the general public across the world, has led to many calls to ban the import of trophies into the EU, and the UK more specifically. In fact, very few trophies are imported into the UK, with figures from CITES suggesting there were only around 32 such imports between 2010 and 2015.

But while the UK only imports a very small number of trophies, FOUR PAWS says that many people from the UK are at risk of contributing to this cruel and unnecessary practice without realising, through voluntary placements and other tourist activities, such as petting of cubs and photo opportunities with captive big cats.

Major voluntary tourism providers such as Frontier and I-to-I offer tourists the opportunity to get up close and personal with big cats on their placements. Photos on the websites of these providers show volunteers feeding, holding and cuddling lion and tiger cubs.

While these pictures may look cute, FOUR PAWS warns that the close proximity to big cats that this sort of project offers poses numerous animal welfare concerns, offers no benefit to the conservation of wild populations, and is likely to be linked to the canned hunting industry.

Kieran Harkin, Head of Programmes at FOUR PAWS UK, commented: “In South Africa, the captive lion population considerably exceeds the wild population.

“Most of these lions are bred as part of the lucrative canned hunting industry, but the breeding of lions for hunting in South Africa also attracts thousands of volunteers each year, often under the false impression that they are taking part in conservation projects by working at these lion breeding facilities.

“Furthermore, thousands more tourists pay to enter these facilities to pet and play with lion cubs. These unscrupulous facilities present huge animal welfare concerns as the lion cubs are taken away form their mothers on the day they are born, which causes huge distress to both mother and cubs.

“They are then subjected to daily interactions with tourists and when they are too old to be handled they are often sold onto the canned hunting industry.”

After being contacted by FOUR PAWS, Projects Abroad agreed to publicly commit to a more rigorous vetting process and to ensure that research is undertaken to ensure that all of the placements it offers are free of any connection to animal cruelty.

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Commenting on the decision, Greg Thomson, Operations Director at Projects Abroad, said: “Projects Abroad sends over 2000 volunteers each year to participate on conservation projects and we take great responsibility in ensuring the best possible treatments of animals on our placements.

“Conserving animals is at the forefront of our conservation objectives and we are proud to publicly pledge that we will ensure our conservation projects involve no practices which negatively impact animals. We urge all other gap year and volunteer organisations to do the same.”

Kieran Harkin said the charity welcomed the decision by Projects Abroad, stating: “We are delighted that one of the biggest and best voluntary project providers in the world has taken this important step.

“It is not just a case of the animal cruelty involved, but the fact that many consumers are unwittingly taking part, while thinking that they are doing something positive for the animals.

“Many of these volunteers would be shocked and saddened if they knew the truth. It is vital that companies such as Projects Abroad put in place such measures to ensure they are not involving themselves in this type of cruelty, and we will now be calling on other companies to follow the example set by Projects Abroad.”

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