On World Lion Day, international charity World Animal Protection released a report Breeding cruelty – how tourism is killing Africa’s lions to highlight the plight of the large cats confined to a life of misery in ‘entertainment’ parks.

UK and global celebrities came out in force online to back the charity and speak out for lions in need.

Ricky Gervais, Ian Somerhalder, US singer Kesha, Taylor Hasselhoff made their voices heard alongside British actors Brian Blessed and Amanda Abbington and others.

Off the back of the global outcry of the killing of Cecil the lion, the campaigning organisation is highlighting the dark world of entertainment parks that many tourists may be unwittingly visiting.

Lion parks are increasingly popular attractions where tourists can get up close and personal for a ‘once in a life-time’ encounter with wild lions in captivity. Lion cubs intensively bred, especially for lion parks are taken from their mothers, sometimes at just a few weeks old, to be used as photo props for tourist ‘selfies’ and sometimes ‘lion walks’ – all in the name of entertainment. This is big business and numbers of captive-bred lions in South Africa have almost doubled since 2005 to at least 5,800 animals.

World Animal Protection has major concerns about the welfare of cubs in lion parks:

· Lion cubs are separated from their mothers, sometimes only a week after they are born, to begin their ‘training’ to be safe for tourist handling

· Young cubs are presented to tourists, constantly viewed and mishandled hundreds of times a day, which can lead to stress and injury

· Lion cubs are typically punished using pain and fear in order to stop aggressive unwanted behaviour

· Lions are often kept in small concrete enclosures and can be fed an inadequate diet – which doesn’t even meet their basic welfare needs

· These conditions can cause chronic stress making them more susceptible to disease.

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World Animal Protection also fears for the fate of adult lions who are no longer of use to lion parks as they become too large and dangerous for direct contact with tourists. Unlike other captive conservation programmes, commercial lion parks do not help to boost wild population numbers as their lions can never be safely released into the wild.

Instead, adult lions are either euthanized, kept in increasingly crowded captive conditions, or may be sold to zoos, lion farms or even a private collector for profit. Lion parks deny supplying captive bred lions for ‘Canned’ or ‘Put and Take’ lion hunting, however most possess little knowledge of what happens to lions after they have been sold.

Kate Nustedt, Director of Wildlife at World Animal Protection says: "We are incredibly grateful to all these wonderful supporters who are using their high-profile voice to join our movement to protect wild animals.

“It is entirely credible that the lion cubs from holiday ‘selfies’ may become the same animals that are later shot by trophy hunters.

“By refusing to visit lion parks and instead paying to see animals in the wild, you can help to end the demand that keeps this cruelty alive.

“We must make these changes now, to truly protect Africa’s lions. If Cecil’s death does one thing we hope that it is to give a greater urgency to the tourism industry and governments to urgently act to protect our wildlife.”

World Animal Protection is building a global movement to put wildlife protection on the agenda and reduce the tourist demand for cruel animal entertainment attractions. Find out more here.

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