The truth behind my lion selfie

As I apprehensively shuffled into the caged box, my gut clenched and my heart stopped…I immediately knew that I was in a bad place, and I desperately wanted to run straight back out and find comfort in my friends hiding out in the car.

But something stronger told me to carry on, something told me that by enduring the next hour in this awful place I could find hope to make a positive change to the hell that I currently found myself encased in.

After an hour of enduring the heartbreaking pain of filming undercover, I spent the next hour crying and shaking at what I had seen. I was both so angry and upset that I couldn’t decide between having an emotional breakdown and marching straight back into the building to punch the guy in the face. And that’s when I decided that I could try my absolute hardest to turn my experience into a huge positive…and that’s when I came up with this experiment.

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I’m sure many of you recognise this photo, as I spammed it across my social media platforms just before returning back to England. Within minutes of uploading the image, likes and comments immediately began to pour in, as I predicted they would.

Everyone loves to see a cute lion cub gazing into the camera, heightened by the fact he had his paw on my shoulder as I stare lovingly into his beautiful big eyes.

Now I’m assuming from the huge number of likes and adoring comments across my social media that what you don’t know is that this is the image you will see in just a few years’ time of this once majestic lion.

lion canned hunting

So after signing the guestbook with fake names and ID numbers, our presenter, my camera and I trail into the self-proclaimed “eco-park”, nervously pondering what we were about to encounter. I played the part of English tourist, this being my first time in Africa, and I’m looking forward to seeing a real lion up close!

One of the enclosures that I was taken into contained three lion cubs. At merely three weeks old we were told that they had been taken away from their mother who was in another enclosure far away and the cubs were given “lion milk formula”. The sad thing is that the guide answered absolutely every question that I put to him…without thinking that anything was wrong with this situation…Knowing full well that every single person who pets these poor cubs in their enclosures is making them get more and more accustomed to humans, therefore losing their natural instinctual fear of people.

Sadly there are many places in South Africa just like this one – they claim to be a good place for animals, which thousands of tourists believe. They make millions by attracting tourists from all over the world to see, hold, and interact with ‘wild animals’. There are currently only about 2,000 lions left in the wild in South Africa whilst there are over 8,000 currently in captivity.

(Even as I write this, it has just been reported that an American woman was mauled to death by a lion today in the Lion Park in Johannesburg, which lets you drive through as long as you keep your windows closed. Of course there are always those who don’t listen to rules and as the woman opened her window a lion reached through and grabbed her. Had these lions not been exposed to people their entire lives they wouldn’t have lost their instinctual fear of humans and would have kept well away. Now I’m just praying that the lion doesn’t lose his life due to human stupidity.)

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While you see a cute lion, happy to be involved in the selfie culture of today, this cub’s future is actually headed for the canned hunting industry. So while you dream about stroking, holding and taking your own selfies with lions just like my adorable model cub, you are contributing to a multi-million dollar industry which results in a bullet lodged in this lion’s brain – to put it straight to you. (Sorry)

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If you are not familiar with the term ‘canned hunting’, lets use the example of the lion in my selfie, and lets call him Leo.

When Leo reaches an age when he is too big to cuddle he will be taken on walks with tourists who pay big bucks for that ‘privilege’. When Leo gets to two years old he will be too big/dangerous to interact with people closely, although he is now very comfortable with the idea of people, after interacting with hundreds every week.

Leo will then be left in an enclosure until he reaches his prime – therefore looking his most impressive – at about six years old, when a canned hunter will travel to South Africa, after paying around $38,000, to point his bigman gun at Leo whilst sitting in the safety of a vehicle, accompanied by guides to protect him.

Meat will even be put out for Leo so that the hunter will know exactly where he will be. And as Leo has been around people since he was taken from his mother at two weeks old, he has no reason to fear the hunter.

Now that the bullet is lodged in Leo’s brain, lets take a selfie next to this trophy…what a brave ‘hunter’.

What is the skill in pulling a trigger on a target you know will stay within the few square metres that you have set it up to be in?

So that’s the brutal and honest truth.

And while you may venture to these places and think that they are doing good for conservation due to the sheer volume of animals held in these places, know that these animals are suffering greatly – both physically from malnutrition and poor living conditions, and mentally after being taken from their mothers at such a young age.

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The horrors that I saw whilst filming undercover included hyenas in cages with lions “to see if they will be friends”, I experienced an attempted attack by an older tiger cub who I was told was “just playing” as his claws close to plowed into me, hissing caracals being shoved into my arms, and three week old lion cubs with chunks of their fur missing.

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Is this conservation? Is this right?

All I ask is that you share this message so that our children can grow up knowing the beauty of the natural and rightful King of the jungle.

70 thoughts on “The truth behind my lion selfie

    1. You would not believe how easy it is to get lions for “hunting” I am sad to say, my daughter is involved in the hunting and wildlife trade, within 2 hours of putting it out there, she had 2 lions for a client. I told her I do not want to hear about it. I will never sell my soul for money.


    2. Good for you girl. We all need to stand up for what we believe in. Man will be very lonely when they have killed all animals.


  1. Excellent article! Although as painful as it must have been to do this, I think it’s a really good way of getting the message across – it brings it to life. I ccan’t stand canned hunting, it amazes me that so many people are interested in shooting such a stunning animal, let alone when it is cornered.


  2. The killing of lions this way is barbaric, the people who shoot them are nothing more than cowards hiding behind their high velocity rifles. If there so manly let them do it on a no weapons allowed basis, and then we’ll see how cowardice will turn to, I don’t want to play this game anymore.


  3. Very well written, interesting and very important article. Kudos for your courage and conviction for exposing the barbaric truth behind lion selfies. So many people are not aware of the reality behind this. It is crucial this becomes general everyday knowledge and you exposing it from
    such a personal place is very powerful. Please continue spreading awareness and stay safe always.


  4. I advocate for our wildlife and I understand how hard this had to be for you, but thank you for doing it and enlightening people on the agenda of these places and what happens to the cubs. While there are still people that don’t know the truth about these places, others still refuse to acknowledge what happens just to appease their selfish ego with that dear innocent cub. Again, my thanks to you Jessica. We need many more folks like you helping to put an end to these places


  5. Excellently written and so grateful to you for bringing this to public attention. The more this is exposed the more likely it is that something will be done about this. Thank you.


  6. What a true yet heartbreaking story . We humans have sunk so low as the custodians of our beautiful wildlife…


  7. Wow! Thank you for opening my eyes to the cruel reality of these lion parks. I live in this country and was not aware that this is the practice. Really heartbreaking.


  8. I was greatly sadden when I first read about “canned hunting” and your writing reminds me again, it still goes on and on — but too few know about such cruelty, so thank you, thank you for putting this painful truth out and reminding us all.



  9. I’m so glad you shared this, people need to know what is happening and how absolutely wrong it is to treat animals this way, things like this are so sad and I just wish there was a way in which I could help, so thank you for sharing this!!


  10. We are custodians of these wonderful animals and we have failed miserably in our care of them through our greed for wealth. Thank you for posting this story and enlightening us of the plight of these lions and other species of animals and the depth of human depravity. What can we do?


  11. thanks love that you’ve written this but seriously what now , you like every one else writes a piece about what really happens then go on your way like dozens before you have !!!
    Don’t get me wrong it’s great to get the message out to the brain dead morons, but how do we all get more done 😞


  12. just the fact of them being caged is a form of cruelty, animals were born free so why do we put them in cage? We wouldn’t like this being done with us right??? It’s great that you got the courage to get in there against all odds and show us the truth about those places.


  13. Well written post about such an important topic, well done – I know lots of people visit these kinds of places without thinking about the consequences and many of them wouldn’t if they knew, so sharing this kind of experience is so important and can actually make a huge difference!


  14. Disgusting. Canned hunting should be for the people who sign up to shoot these beautiful animals. Lets see how they would like to be chased to rifles then shot in the head!!! I would definately sign up for a shoot the poacher/hunter of this sport but not to shoot beautiful animals in the wild. So lets keep spreading the word of this barbaric sport and hope to stamp it out.


  15. Thank you for bringing to this truth to everyone attention. We call ourselves animal lovers but it appears to stop at cats and dogs. We spend millions looking after our domestic animals, whilst not caring about any of those in the wild. GREED is root cause of this South African industry. We need to lead a campaign to stop this and encourage true wildlife conservation.


  16. I applaud your exposé , which is desperately needed to add another voice to the scores already out there – this is a crime against animals – we wouldn’t be able to treat our dogs this way without being reported to the (R)SPCA so how can it be condoned in wild animals??
    I support a charity in SA which helps conserve White Lions, as they are the most popular canned hunting target – if anyone is interested, it’s at

    well done Jessica!!!


  17. Thank you for this article, people need to be aware, how cruel this business is behind the curtains . Hope people stop to take cute pics with these poor animals after reading this info. Stay strong Jessica , you are a great advocate for the wildlife.


  18. Excellent expose that I knew nothing about until I read this. I shall be sharing it on Facebook…and hoping that as the message spreads further afar the public who go to these places won’t go any longer.

    Thank you!


  19. It’s great you are promoting this – I learned a lot – never liked such selfies before but never realised the horrid truth. I’ll post/share and spread the word. Thank you. Great work x


  20. I will never understand the ‘joy’ people get from murdering these beautiful creatures for fun. It is a disgusting and detestable practice. I am glad you are highlighting this and will share.


  21. You were brave beyond words and we humans are selfish & greedy & we need to know we are custodians of what God has created! He will hold us accountable. Ronny


  22. Thank you for sharing this with the world! It is not fair to do this to any wild animal, lions included. I volunteered at a shelter for rescued animals, two years ago. None of them would ever make it in the wild. I believe that is different. And most of them, we did not get to “play” with either. Sadly someone broke into the sanctuary and killed our rhino to get her horn. I cannot believe how disrespectful some people are towards animals. So sad…


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