No more Lion Farms

NO MORE LION FARMSThursday, May 6, 2021

By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

There are anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 lions living in captivity in South Africa—maybe as many as 12,000. Breeding them is a multimillion-dollar industry: Cubs are for tourists to pet and cuddle; adults are for hunters to kill; bones are for exporting to Asia for traditional medicine. Despite years of exposés into the neglect and exploitation that takes place in the industry, South Africa had steadfastly refused to shut it down.

Until now. On Sunday, the country made a sharp U-turn when the minister of the wildlife department announced an end to its captive lion industry. It’s a major win for both animal welfare advocates and lion conservationists.

What goes on at lion farms has been almost entirely hidden from public view, and much of what we know about the facilities comes from whistleblowers. But in 2019, Nat Geo’s Rachel Fobar was invited to visit one, after she reported on a complaint filed against the farm alleging neglect of more than a hundred lions. (Above and below, lions at Pienika Farm, which Fobar and photographer Nichole Sobecki, a National Geographic Explorer, visited.)

“I think they definitely did some clean-up before we arrived,” Fobar says of her visit. “It reminded me a lot of a regular Midwest farm, but instead of cows and chickens, it was lions, tigers, panthers, and other wildlife. It was bizarre seeing them behind wire fencing like that.”

She continues: “And, of course, we found out later that they were hiding their most sick animals from us—along with the bodies of at least 20 dead big cats.”

With Sunday’s announcement, all of this will come to an end. Fobar reports that South Africa will no longer issue permits to breed, keep, interact with, or hunt captive lions, and it’s also revoking all existing permits to breed lions. We don’t know yet what will happen to the thousands of lions living in captivity. They can’t be released into the wild because they wouldn’t know how to survive. It’s likely many will be euthanized.

Note: Our Wildlife Watch unit, funded by the National Geographic Societh, shines a light on the commercial exploitation of wildlife and other valued resources. Learn more about the Society’s support of Explorers highlighting and protecting critical species.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHANE GRANZOTTO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOTHow do animals sleep? For this group of 30-some sperm whales 50 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean, sleep looks spooky. These female adult whales can stay like this, without moving, for hours. Dolphins can shut off half their brains. Elephants snooze only two hours a night. Liz Langley explores why animals have such different ways of getting shut-eye.

What we could learn from chimps: The moms dote. The sons show affection back. For decades. “About a third of adult males are essentially best friends with their mothers,” Harvard’s Rachna Reddy, co-author of a new study on chimpanzee motherhood, tells Nat Geo. See these photos of moments between animal mothers and babies.

Are city squirrels bolder? That may be the wrong question, researchers say. It’s true that some squirrels have become more accustomed to humans, but studies have shown that their willingness to respond to all threats had not lessened, Discover magazine reports.

A horse, leading others to water: Credit wild horses and donkeys with helping other species in the U.S. southwest. New research from the Mojave Desert shows the animals dig down six inches or more to create “mini-oases” to quench their thirst—and that of 50-some other types of animals. Nat Geo’s Douglas Main employed that tactic himself in an Arizona desert when he was drenched with a foul-smelling chemical from a shimmery green beetle. “Too far removed from any faucet, I had to improvise. So I dug into the dry riverbed about a foot, until I hit water, and was able to wash the scent away,” Main wrote in this story.

All ants aren’t alike: Photographer Eduard Florin Niga shows (and tells) the bountiful variety of ants throughout the world—through images of their heads. Among the species collected in a new book is the giant turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus, sometimes called “the Darth Vader of the ant world.” We’ll have more on this effort in our Photography newsletter on Saturday, but for now, see the photos!
PHOTOGRAPH BY @DOUG_GIMESYShe’s small now … but Milani, a baby greater glider, should grow to become an adult member of Australia’s largest gliding mammal species. The animals can glide more than 300 feet and change direction by 90 degrees mid-flight. Deliberate tree-cutting and bushfires have cut the habitat for the greater gliders, now listed as vulnerable to extinction. Doug Gimesy photographed Milani at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, on Australia’s east coast.

Koalas on the run: Australia’s fires have hurt these distinctive marsupials, too
Anything with a mouth is going to eat them, so it’s going to be a good year to be a bird.John CooleyEntomologist, National Geographic Explorer

From: Trillions of cicadas are coming to the U.S. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
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Come back tomorrow for George Stone on travel. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Whitney Johnson on photography, Victoria Jaggard on science, Debra Adams Simmons on history, Robert Kunzig on the environment, and Rachel Buchholz on families and kids.
PHOTOGRAPH BY EDELCIO MUSCATOrange crush: Meet Brachycephalus rotenbergae, the newly discovered pumpkin toadlet (above) found in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. The thumbnail-size orange amphibian glows in the dark—probably a warning to would-be predators that his skin carries a potentially deadly toxin. The discovery of the new species comes amid deforestation that has cut its habitat drastically. “Unfortunately, nowadays, we are losing unidentified species faster than we can describe new ones.” herpetologist Ivan Sergio Nunes Silva

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