The Lion King ‘Simba’ Syndrome

With the release of Disney’s classic, the Lion King, our captive lion cubs are going to suffer even more than usual. Why I am saying this? Because of the ‘Simba’ syndrome. The film will ‘inspire’ masses of people to hold a real lion cub the way Simba was held by Rafiki, when he was presented to the kingdom.

Every year, hundreds of lion cubs in South Africa are condemned to a life of imprisonment in one of our 300+ captive wildlife facilities. They are ripped away from their mothers within days of birth to be hand-reared by humans, often involving paying international volunteers.

Their lifecycle is completely ruled by the optimisation of their economic value from cradle to grave. However, this story is about the distressing start of a lion cub’s life in captivity.

Many of these cubs have never known the sound, touch, warmth and love of their mother. They may have had some of their mother’s milk in the first few days of their life, but subsequently they are raised on a milk formula that ill-equips them for infections.

Taking cubs away from their mothers within hours to days of birth can severely compromise their immune system. Away from the public eye, many cubs catch viruses and bacterial infections and become seriously ill. Vets are expensive and plenty of breeders refuse to spend money on their animals’ health. The death toll of cubs in captivity is therefore high.

Those that survive the crucial first three months seek protection from us humans. We have become their surrogate mothers and in the process they lose their natural fear for people.

At often not more than a few weeks old, so young that they are still somewhat wobbly on their feet, these cubs are introduced to petting enclosures. Here, toddlers, kids, teenagers and adults are encouraged to pet, hold, kiss, play and cuddle these cubs for up to 8 hours a day. This habituates them further to people.

It also exhausts them. In nature, cubs sleep most of the day, but here they are kept awake for our entertainment. So, we can have that perfect selfie with a cute baby lion.

Four weeks old cubs at Akwaaba Predator Park

Many facilities will claim that their cubs were rejected by their mother, or the mother ran out of milk, or even that the cubs were orphaned. Some insist that cubs are better off to be hand-reared. All blatant lies.

Cubs will stay in these petting enclosures until they are about six months old. At this point they become too boisterous for petting and need to be replaced with the next batch of tiny cubs, and the next, and the next.

This obviously perpetuates the captive breeding of lions, which will not stop until we can put an end to cub petting.

Thanda Tau 2 months old tawny lion cub

It breaks my heart to see the miserable lives these kings and queens of the jungle are born into. The suffering they are put through every single day of their lives until the end is determined by their owner.

Suffering for what?
For self-gratification on Facebook.
For click bait on Instagram.
To show off on SnapChat.

I beg every single one of you to think VERY carefully before you pet a lion cub, or any other wild animal for that matter, as you will be part of the problem.

You will contribute to their suffering.
You will perpetuate the captive breeding of lions.
You will have that lion cub’s life on your conscience.

Go and enjoy the Lion King, I certainly will. Teach your kids about our amazing natural heritage, where these lions belong, but don’t support the captive breeding and suffering of these magnificent creatures.

© Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s