The Lion and Safari Park has explained its reasoning behind reintroducing the controversial tourist activity of lion cub petting.
The park made headlines this week after a foundation accused it of reintroducing the practice, which the park had previously committed to ending.
When the old Lion Park reopened in a new location as the Lion and Safari Park, cub petting had been ended, the park's management team said.
However, things soon changed when the park saw the effect this decision had on its business.
"We had every intention running the new park without cub petting and we tried to replace this with other activities. Unfortunately this led to a dramatic and unexpected drop in the number of visitors and tour operators," the park's management said in a statement sent to iafrica.com.
The park said they were told that there remains a high demand for cub petting and that tourists and operators were choosing their competition instead.
"We were told in no uncertain terms that the high demand for cub petting was causing them to rather visit our opposition where such activities are still offered. The net result: We were not competing on a level playing field and, unless our competitors also stopped the cub petting, the massive R100m investment in our new world class facility, the survival of our business and the livelihoods of all our staff would be at stake," management said.
The activity resumed on August 13, with the park sending letters to CACH, EWT and the NSPCA to explain the decision.
So what does this mean for cub petting at the park?
The management intends for the activity to only stay at the park for as long as it is promoted in the industry - and that the park will actually work towards getting the practice banned.
"In light of our commitment and determination to eradicate cub petting we are willing to join with, and help, other organisations and the government to ban cub petting altogether," the park said.
The reason lion cub petting continues to be a hot button issue is because it has been linked with the canned lion hunting industry.
Once tamed captive bred lion cubs grow up, they are often sold off to the hunting industry as easy targets for canned hunting.
The Lion and Safari Park however has strongly denied any involvement in this trade.
"We can assure everyone that our lion cubs ARE NEVER SOLD TO HUNTERS. We abhor the concept of canned hunting and it is disappointing that wild assumptions and false accusations abound without even a shred of evidence to support them," the park said.
The Lion and Safari Park says that its adult lions are kept by the park until they die of old age, or they are donated to "reputable zoos and parks". The park pointed to its surplus of lions, saying that if profit was their intention, they would have sold off their older lions long ago.
The park's lions are also micro-chipped so that they can be continually monitored wherever they go.
Despite the reintroduction of cub petting, the park has committed to lobbying for the practice to be banned.
"We will give our full support to this cause and help to lobby the authorities to introduce legislation as soon as possible. As soon as this activity becomes illegal, all the players in this field will be in the same position and we will happily stop cub petting forever," management said.
In the meantime however, the park will continue to activity due to the "very difficult predicament" they are in.