SA Tourism response to Green Girls’ open letter

Last week I published an open letter to the CEO of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, asking for further details on their commitment to stop promoting unethical wildlife attractions. This letter was sparked after Sisa’s statement during a recent Tourism Update webinar:

South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals, such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on.

Sisa Ntshona (CEO SA Tourism)

My open letter was well received by the industry and widely shared on social media – just on Facebook it was shared 344 times and counting. A huge thank you to everybody involved for caring and supporting the #HandsOffOurWildlife movement!

Since then, we have seen some real changes in our industry, steps towards more responsible promotion of wildlife in captivity encounters.

  • One day later: SA Tourism was working through their whole website to remove all current and archived content on unethical wildlife interactions! If you still come across anything you believe should not be promoted by SA Tourism, please let me have the URL and I will pass this on to the SA Tourism content editor.
  • Two days later: An official statement was released by OR Tambo International airport indicating that they will remove the lion cub petting image from the airport. Well done Blood Lions and Captured in Africa for initiating this campaign. If you happen to be at OR Tambo and see the panel being removed, please send us a photo.
  • Four days later: SA Tourism released an official response to my open letter on animal interactions (see below).

Dear Louise

Let me start by thanking you for bringing these issues to my attention, and for contributing in an informed way to the public debate on the ethics of wild animal interactions for commercial gain. It is only through constant liaison and interaction with passionate industry players such as yourself that we can steer South Africa towards reaching its full tourism potential in a responsible manner.

I would like to reiterate South African Tourism’s position on cub petting. We are fully cognisant of the global anti-petting lobby and back it unreservedly. However, I must emphasise that this is our stance as an organisation and is not necessarily our country’s official policy, as the practice has not been outlawed.

As a destination marketing organisation, we do not have the authority to dictate to tourism enterprises how they should conduct their business if it is in the confines of the law, even if it is not regarded as being in the interest of conservation. The best we can do is educate, inform and guide these businesses, and constantly liaise with government, the trade and conservation bodies on the best way forward.

There is still much to be done around awareness, the OR Tambo incident just informs and highlights the importance of constantly educating the industry.  We know that the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), did not put up the advert with malicious intent, they simply were not informed. The good news is that after it was red-flagged by Captured in Africa and other members of the public, ACSA has covered the section of mural at OR Tambo International Airport that depicts a family petting lion cubs while they find a suitable replacement for the image.

Please accept my assurance that all of us at South African Tourism are committed to promoting sustainable, responsible and ethical tourism practices. There is still much work to be done, in consultation with the industry, but please don’t hesitate to keep in touch and highlight any other inconsistencies or ethically questionable tourism practices you may come across that you believe we can assist with.

We welcome any input you and others may have in constructively finding solutions together, to develop our tourism economy responsibly. Please feel free to email me at with any suggestions, queries, red flags or complaints & solutions.

As an alternative, we also encourage all to make use of the various association bodies in our sector as they have standing relationships not only with us but with other related and relevant stakeholders.

I will also be taking part in another webinar with Tourism Update on the 31st of January at 13h30, where I will be available to chat about this and other burning tourism issues in more depth.

Best wishes,

Sisa Ntshona (CEO: South African Tourism


I thank you Sisa, for taking time out of your busy schedule to properly respond to my letter and confirming your position as an organisation. Even though hands-on captive wildlife interactions are legal in South Africa, it is encouraging to know that SA Tourism chooses the more ethical hands-off approach, which I realise isn’t always the most straightforward one.

I also applaud your willingness for public debate, especially since I know from personal experience that many organisations and businesses avoid the conversation altogether.

I will eagerly follow SA Tourism’s progress in putting your philosophy into further action, hopefully starting with a holistic policy on ethical wildlife encounters. It is crucial as an organisation to decide where to draw the line of what wildlife encounter is and is not acceptable, as this will form the basis of your policy. The subsequent message should be clear and transparent, one that makes choices as easy as possible for SA Tourism, visitors and trade alike. For many in our industry:


I look forward to continuing this discussion on ethical wildlife encounters and wider responsible tourism issues with yourself and your team through platforms, such as the Tourism Update Webinar.

The small ripples of change created by individuals in our responsible tourism industry, can become tidal waves of sustainability in collaboration.

Yours in sustainability,




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