If you love lions, don’t pet them


Lion cubs are not for petting. When sanctuaries invite visitors to cuddle the growing beasts, they’re rearing them to be killed. Cathrine Nyquist learnt that lesson the hard way. Occasionally travelling from Norway to volunteer at a local animal sanctuary, Nyquist felt her bond with the lions grow with every visit. Until one was torn from her arms and taken to a breeding farm. That’s when she realised the place was supporting the canned hunting industry and trading of their bones. Nyquist was heartbroken. But more than that, she was furious. “The lions I had fallen in love with suddenly were sent away,” she says. “They created a massive fire inside of me to do something good for them.” Nyquist decided to stay in South Africa and build a true sanctuary for our country’s most vulnerable big cats.

At Panthera Africa, Nyquist cares for 10 rescued lions. This includes Oliver, who had to fight for food at the enclosure he was previously in, and Shani, who was severely ill when she arrived but is now strong and healthy. Here, the animals live peacefully without the risk of being abused further. Every contribution to their survival counts. There are only 20 000 wild lions left, down from 200 000 a century ago. Those making trips to lion farms that allow direct interaction and petting are unwittingly supporting their death. Accustomed to human interaction, the big cats can no longer survive in the wild and are sent away to hunters. Their bones are also exported for use in traditional medicines. Supporting the market could mean both captive-bred and wild lions become victims of poaching, leading the species down the road of extinction.

Nyquist has ensured that the animals that are threatened by this system have a safe space to live. Her project acts as an example of ethical animal welfare and sustainability, while revealing the truth behind the places that put lions at risk for the sake of profit. Thanks to Nyquist, the species still have a chance. “For as long as the lions need saving, we will be here to champion them and speak their voice,” Nyquist says.