I write on behalf of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) – and personally as a Christian – to oppose the development of the Lamloch Safari Park. All the world’s major religions subscribe to some version of the Golden Rule and to mercy, compassion and peace as key values. They all contain some explicit exhortation to be kind to animals, or at least not to be cruel to them.
According to my own faith, we are divinely directed to care not only for each other as human beings but for all living beings and for the Earth. SAFCEI is a multi-faith environmental organisation whose mission is ‘Caring for the living Earth’. We work with faith communities and people of faith to support and assist them in standing up for the poor and vulnerable and those without voices, whether they be our fellow humans or members of our fellow species.
In the article published in The Village NEWS (6 March 2019) entitled Safari park mooted for Kleinmond, there was a lot about the supposed economic benefits of this development and about how nice it will be for people, mainly foreign tourists, to visit. Owner Craig Saunders claims that the proposed park will serve an educational function. He says that they “will encourage visits from school groups which enables youngsters to get up close and personal with the largest mammals on earth and to be taught the importance of conserving and protecting our natural environment and the other species that share the earth with us”. According to the Game Management Plan it seems that the star attractions will be a few elephants (in captivity), three lions (in captivity) and a pair of black rhinos, all “for the purpose of tourism viewing”.
The public participation process that is required for this ‘safari park’ to be given the go-ahead involves asking the public whether they think this is a good idea. We would rather ask whether this is a good idea for those who will be most affected, namely for the individual wild animals to be kept at the park, as well as for their respective species.
For the lions, the park would be a zoo by any other name. Lions held in “an enclosure for the purpose of tourism viewing” would not have the freedom to live out their normal behaviour. As for elephants, questions must be asked how they would come to accept humans ‘accompanying’ them and herding them on a daily basis. Saunders claims that “‘training’ is a dirty word” for them – rather, he says, “We habituate the elephants to human contact”. What he doesn’t explain are the cruel, unnatural and inhumane processes that are required to break the spirit of and subjugate elephants which are wild animals. No matter how ‘tame’ and able to be ‘handled’ elephants become, they are never ‘domesticated’ and remain wild animals which deserve a life free from human interference.
What about the alleged educational value of such a facility as claimed by Saunders? There is little to be learned about the natural behaviour of wild animals when observing them in captivity. But the implicit message is that it is acceptable to hold God’s creatures captive and demean them by putting them on display for human interest and pleasure. This is anti-educational and damaging to the interests of wild animals generally, which are at the mercy of human society.
The plan to use a “portion of the game ranch … for intensive buffalo breeding and live sales” is similarly problematic. Intensive farming of even long domesticated species such as chickens, pigs and cows involves horrific cruelty and mass suffering, but in the 21st century to be extending such a system to still wild species and commodifying these animals too, is unconscionable.
It is establishments such as the one proposed for Kleinmond, along with canned lion ‘hunting’, trophy hunting, petting zoos and more that will turn South Africa (once again) into a pariah state boycotted by international tourists. I trust that the sensible people of Kleinmond will see past the short-term economic gains that this project might bring, and recognise that doing the right thing and turning this project down will be good not only for the animals that would be impacted by it, but also in the long run good for themselves economically as well as morally and spiritually.