You see something that you don’t understand, or that concerns you… Should you ask? Is there such thing as a naive question?

The answer is ‘Yes’ you should ask. And ‘No’ there are no naive questions when the welfare of animals is at stake. Dare to ask, and engage in a respectful discussion with the staff.  Even if not about animal welfare, asking gives you an opportunity to learn and ask further questions.

This is Mambo. It is a big Zimbabwean rescued cat. He is a gorgeous rugged lion male…

I never fancied the enclosure he lived in, although I have seen much worse. Cat rescue is not the specialty of the reserve who cares about Mambo. That reserve focuses on the conservation of black rhinos and elephants and doing a fantastic job on that account. As for that lion and the few other big predators in its care, their welfare condition is not the greatest when you take into consideration their usual and sizable rich natural habitats. It’s totally understandable that one wants to rescue an animal, however, if we can’t offer the best welfare conditions, then it becomes questionable. At a minimum, we have to question the consequences and make sure that any suboptimal welfare is only temporary.

Back to Mambo: At the time I volunteered over there, Mambo was a troubled and aggressive lion recently acquired by the reserve. The neighboring lioness had just lost her longtime male friend and I understand that the reserve’s owners were trying to find a new partner for her… Well, it did not work as expected and Mambo ended up killing the female at a feeding time a year after my stay.

The day I heard the tragic news, I was totally devastated. I even felt somehow responsible for this death. Why? Because I had not voiced a concern when I should have.

A year before I had a doubt when witnessing the feeding of the lion pair. I was not at ease with the way the feeding was managed. Something did not feel right but I remained silent as I battled with the situation. Who was I to voice a concern, to ask maybe a very naive question?!

Learning about the lioness death and then investigating lions feeding rules further, I realized that I was most likely right. I should have said something at the time. I should have asked if it was safe to feed the female first and so close to the male, who could obviously slash and hurt her from where he was despite the fence bars between them. The day of the feeding that I questioned silently, the male was in a rage on the other side of the bars, trying to reach her and get his king’s share. He did not get her that day, he got her a year later. If I had asked my question, maybe I would have changed the course of events. We’ll never know.

This was a mistake: asking a question or raising concern in a respectful manner is always the right thing to do. At worst you worried for nothing; at best you can better the situation by raising awareness. In all cases, you learn something. So just ask, this might even save a life later on…

References & Further Reading…

If you intend to visit a place hosting animals in captivity (including zoos, sanctuaries, rescue centers), then check The EwA Zoo Evaluation Essentials.

When Snapping Do Help Captive Animals. Earthwise Aware (2017)

Volunteering with or for Big Wild Cats. Earthwise Aware (2016)

Legitimate Sanctuaries versus Pseudo-Sanctuaries. Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Sanctuary Standards. Big Cat Rescue (2015).

How can you tell if a zoo takes good care of its animals? Washington Post, Brian Palmer (2011).

How To Tell Whether Your Local Zoo Is Hell For Animals. The Dodo (2015)


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