Everyone seems obsessed during this quarantine The tiger king yelling on Netflix that everyone in this series should go to jail and how damn the US must be for people to keep tigers and others in captivity to visit these places.
To be honest, I gave it up after 3 episodes. It’s crazy and I know it’s going to get even crazier. But to make a film about it next? I think the obsession with it is much crazier than the actual people being introduced. Is that what this series should achieve?
People even dress their babies like Joe Exotic! Who is crazier here if you want to attract your child or put a filter on your face to look like a person who abuses animals and is accused of double murder?
When I was in psychiatry, I always knew that many love to idealize serial killers, but make Joe a sensation like this? This is crazy the next level.
Most people, including journalists, admit they had no idea that there are more tigers in captivity in the United States than in the wild? The same thing happens with other big cats. Try googling how many people keep cheetahs and cougars as pets or what happens to the wild lion population.
Let me save you some time here – there are only about 20,000 lions left in the wild. In South Africa alone, around 14,000 people live in captivity.
The abuse of wild animals, not just tigers, does not only happen in America. The infamous tiger temple in Thailand, elephant rides, dolphins and orcas in small pools, dancing bears as you call it – it happens all over the world.
Do you know who has been the main consumer of wildlife tourism over the years? Europeans – long before the Americans knew about it. While it may seem common knowledge to many who travel often, it is not for most.
In fact, I have my own story with big cats and crazy people, but I still don’t get any fascination to this day. I am very happy with my Ragdoll cat at home.
I have never completely shared my previous work with lions for some reason. At first I thought I could insult the people involved in this story. Second, and more importantly, I was ashamed and afraid of being banned from the fact that I was even involved in working with big cats, so that I only shared parts as diplomatically as possible. The truth is that it happened. Here’s a story for you …
Exactly 11 years ago I moved to London to study at the renowned University College London. Getting into a top university seemed like a dream. I worked hard for it by completing my undergraduate studies in just 1.5 years and trying to improve my English.
For those who don’t know, I’m not a native English speaker and at that time my English was fine (I passed my exams), but not great.
I not only wanted to be part of a good university, but also more. Like every other young adult, I had dreams of moving to a big city for a career – so I actually chose London against Oxbridge. When I got there I realized that there was a long way between living in London and reaching a career that I wanted. Cliche.
While my parents helped with the class (back then it was about 5-10 times cheaper than today), I lived to feed in a room the size of most people’s closets and of course had to work for it. With no experience in London or the UK, I accepted every job I could get, and in my case it was a British pub until I switched to a fancier bar.
I worked 6 days a week and did 12-hour shifts on weekends right after my lectures. I didn’t mind.
An entire semester later, I didn’t learn much from my studies, but I learned that I would never be fully accepted by my colleagues who thought less of me because I had to work. When they went to dinner after the lectures, I went to work.
We never hung around and even my professor told me that if I keep working, he would not finish me and completely ignored the fact that I couldn’t graduate without my work anyway because I couldn’t afford it, just just relax and relax living in london “.
At just 20 years old (because I graduated prematurely, I was a few years younger than anyone else in my class), I pursued a master’s degree with a doctorate and felt completely lost and disillusioned with the discrepancies between the rich and the working class. I decided that I had to get out of the situation by doing something to get noticed. Another cliché.
A normal person would leave school and move somewhere else. I have decided to see what the university has to offer. One evening I discovered that UCL recommends various volunteer programs around the world. “A great addition to your resume as you do something good and make a difference” – they were advertised this way.
I found a number of volunteer programs in Africa that I loved. I grew up with slides from Zambia and Zimbabwe when my mother was sent there on a business trip – it was a very big deal for everyone behind the iron curtain in Poland. I knew I wanted to see it with my own eyes.
I trusted the program because my university recommended it – how do I think the 15 best universities in the world could offer something that isn’t an advantage, right?
I decided to go to Africa to work with lions, submitted the application and boomed – that was it. For the next half year I have saved all my work tips for the flight to Zimbabwe.
Ironically, I started my first travel blog (not this one) for that very trip – mainly because everyone was excited about me, including my classmates who weren’t my biggest fans before.
Remember that this was 2010 when people still thought elephant riding was “a thing to be removed from the list in Asia” and almost no one has ever heard of walking lions, let alone discussed whether it was is ethical or not.
The “white savior complex” was not yet a popular term. probably because the internet doesn’t work the way it does now. In some places, I still had to connect to the internet by waiting for 5 minutes for a beep and was charged per minute, so blogs or online magazines were of course not really a thing.
When I came back from Zimbabwe, I was suddenly brave in all eyes to work with lions, compassionate, voluntary and creative to even think about it. Something that is considered problematic these days and that would lead to a discussion of ethics, shame and so on for many people.
At least with those who follow what’s going on in the world of tourism, but let’s face it – most normal people don’t. This is also the reason why Tiger King is so popular now since it is the first time that many have heard of such places.
For years, every job interview in different countries raised questions, mostly about my work with lions. Whether marketing, law, hospitality or even an IGO – everyone was totally thrilled by my stories about cleaning lion droppings and chopping cows for them.
Instead of looking for my actual experience relevant to a job that I applied for, I am demonstrating how fascinated everyone was by big cats.
When I started my professional blogging career a few years ago, every media publication and other blogger (including those who now claim that they always hated it) loved presenting my lions on their websites.
Especially 10 years ago everyone wanted a selfie with a lion, tiger, dolphin, elephant and any other wild animal that you can think of. Nowadays, many celebrities or those who work in high positions will refuse to do so because they are afraid of social media setbacks.
But during my short two-week stay, I personally met ambassadors from two countries who came to take photos and walk with the lions. And while lions in this park weren’t in small cages like tigers and lions in zoos in Asia, South Africa, or the United States, the tickets sold well for anyone dealing with big cats.
And they sell on these days. Have you heard about Steve Irwin and Australia ZOO? Everyone loves and praises Bindi, Robert and Terri – they are personable and lovable. Guess what! Even their own zoo offerings Animal experiences like “Tiger Cub Walk Encounter” and selfies jokeH Cheetah.
Do you know what would happen if I posted a smiling photo of a tiger cub on my Instagram today? I would get hate comments. But apparently it’s all good for them to offer it to tourists and do it themselves. I see a double standard here.
When I landed at the provisional airport in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, I was greeted by a representative who took me to a desirable white mansion for the first night – it was literally.
The next morning, with a banana in hand, I drove a local bus to the city of Gweru in central Zimbabwe to start my work as a lion helper in Antelope Park – a private reserve of 3,000 acres of open savanna grassland.
I was taken to a very basic barracks with other volunteers, but compared to houses where the local staff (AKA doesn’t know) lived, our accommodation was luxurious. We cleaned the park, where lots of lions and elephants pooped, took care of tourists, did lion research, prepared meat or, I should say, chopped cows, researched hunting patterns and trained horses. It sounds like voluntary work, and in part it was.
My job was to participate in the lion conservation project with the idea of releasing the adult lions into the wild. What a wild one Within the reserve, of course, as there is no wilderness in most places to let lions roam freely.
However, I can tell you that it is definitely not “Taming lions for hunting trophies“Kind of place, but even with the knowledge I have now, I couldn’t tell you which part of the project was legitimate and which wasn’t.”
While there is nothing related to the ZOOs from the Tiger King Since tiny cages and animals could actually roam freely, I can’t say that people didn’t want to “take this selfie with the lion” and that there were daily interactions with cubs.
But I would be lying if I said that I am not involved in things that I like to remember. I helped care for injured and abused lions from ZOs. I saw them “brought back to life” and brought to a more open space. Although they could not be released into the wild, they did not spend the rest of their lives in a small cage.
The program bred lions as part of TO WARN – Lion Research Trust, mainly due to the fact that lions have died out in 26 different African countries.
However, many lions could not have been released considering how easily foreign hunters can pay for lion hunting (remember the tragic story of Cecil the Lion?) I am not quite sure if it is best to release lions into the wild.
Especially given the fact that there is only about 20,000 lions left in the world due to hunting, habitat loss and prey loss. Is breeding good then? The important thing is to increase the population by breeding cage lions to sell them as You do in South Africa (linked article contains graphic photos) is not a solution either.
However, that’s not the crazy part of the experience, it’s the crazy part of how similar things worked. The founder of the park, as you can guess, was an old white British Zimbabwean man who actually lost an arm in a lion attack. Similar to other permanent employees like a woman who almost lost a leg in a lion attack.
Both apparently returned to work almost immediately and liked to emphasize that these accidents were “not the fault of the lions”. Sounds familiar? Of course it wasn’t the lion’s fault – even my massive but domesticated cat sometimes attacks me and lions cannot be fully domesticated – it’s in their nature.
On the other hand, none of the volunteers or staff saw problems entering the enclosure of injured lions that were not even raised with humans. I am surprised that no accident happened when I was there.
I was told to keep a lion cub while others put food in their bowls. Let me tell you – little kittens may look small, cuddly and innocent, but if they see food, good luck holding them. I could not.
Ironically, from my experience, I wanted to leave the world of privileged rich students, but instead I saw the world of rich whites in Africa firsthand.
The black staff was underpaid and only earned $ 2 a day to work in the bright sun all day. I had enough after repairing and painting a fence in the middle of nowhere at midday at 30 ° C and they had to do it every day.
In the meantime, the owners ate sumptuous meals and flew back and forth to Great Britain. Even if the program was launched to do something good for the lion population, it was still a business.
“But they were all so happy” – we thought of the staff at the time. It was true – every single person I met was happy, regardless of their situation. While teaching young volunteers to appreciate small things more, I feel that many have had a wrong and naive perception.
The locals weren’t happy because they had a job that paid. Their situation was not great, but they decided not to give up and to continue. Should they be sad and depressed all their lives? No, they just learned to appreciate small things, but that doesn’t mean that their life was good.
I have the feeling that from this experience I have learned not to judge a book by its cover. I still see a lot of bloggers claiming that people were happy, so life there has to be good. Even if we all know about the high levels of poverty.
I don’t think I have empowered any community, even though my own university thought I would. I was not a hero, I was just a free job for rich whites.
One thing that struck me when I looked at it Tiger King was that everyone mentioned how addicted the big cats were. I literally gasped when I saw how I saw exactly the same thing in Zimbabwe.
Most of the volunteers were young women, mostly Europeans (many pretty Norwegians), but there were also some Canadians and Americans. We all wanted to do something “original”.
A week after their stay, they all wanted to stay in the park forever. We didn’t have a Doc Antle to run the harem, but we had a lot of local workers. What appeared to be a plausible option was to team up with one of the local lion traders who worked in the park – that would give them a visa and a job. Indeed, the permanent foreign staff was the wife of the local workers.
Ironically, all traders wanted to meet a foreign girl to get a visa and move to their countries.
If they didn’t find a friend, they would go back to another volunteer project in the park or go somewhere else to work with big cats. Some left their lives and did so permanently for another organization.
The craziest experience was actually what happened after I finished working on the project. If you traveled somewhere in April 2010, you may remember what happened. A volcano with the eccentric name Eyjafjallajökull, whose correct pronunciation took several months, erupted and caused a flight stop in Europe, Africa and parts of North America.
I had a connecting flight from Bulawayo to Johannesburg before returning to London, but on the day I wanted to leave the park, I was told not to go to the airport. Some people were offered to stay two weeks longer, but due to work and university commitments, I was unable to extend my stay.
Instead, we took a bus to Bulawayo with another volunteer to spend a night with some friends of his family. They were the British Zimbabwean family of three.
Not surprisingly, when we arrived we were greeted by a huge brick fence with a heavy security system. After security cleared us, we entered a huge villa with several bedrooms and a pool. Something you would only see in Beverly Hills, but this was in the middle of Zimbabwe, where families of 10 would actually share an adobe room.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great for me at first because I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I was a poor 20 year old foreign student in London who had just returned from shoveling shit and was blown up by elephant snot.
Funnily enough, I don’t have a single picture of this place because I was too distracted by a 7 year old boy running through the villa showing us some of his weapons and telling us how much fun he was having with them.
He told us that he will not go anywhere in the city because it is dirty and poor and he was driven to school by a driver. Then, for fun, he shot some random birds outside and played his video game again. His parents didn’t mind.
You were no exception. Rich teenagers from Zimbabwe I have a large following on Instagram that shows their wealth. As I said – looking back on my experiences, I saw the world of rich whites in Africa firsthand and saw how deceptive some experiences can be.
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