SAVING SIRGA: Lion Aid gets it Wrong

False Accusations:

We have recently been made aware of a defamatory and factually incorrect article, posted on the LIONAID website in 2013, which seems to have re-surfaced on the internet as a result of a documentary series we have been working on. Whereas  we normally ignore online smear campaigns, we feel compelled to comment in this case. 

We share the author’s concerns about canned hunting and lion petting, and we certainly do not condone or encourage the hand-rearing of lion cubs. We do however think it important to get the facts right and to investigate and tackle any suspected case individually and with clear minds, instead of making false allegations for financial gain or simply to score general points.

The author of the article states as fact that lions are being bred on Grasslands farm in the Ghanzi District of Botswana for the canned hunting industry in South Africa.  We cannot vouch for Mr Christiaan De Graaff. We do not know him and have never filmed on his farm.

We can however vouch that the accusations leveled at Mr Willem De Graaff the owner of Grasslands, are completely unfounded.

Mr Willem De Graaff has never bred lions for export or for the canned hunting industry or petting trade on Grasslands, nor has any lion on Grasslands ever been sold or exported.

The tone of the article suggests that the author is a science graduate, yet he clearly did not think it necessary to verify the facts before taking a stand. He also offers no proof to verify his accusations. For a trained scientist to make such serious accusations without solid proof is inexcusable.

Tauana Films has been producing wildlife and conservation films in Africa for almost 40 years. As producers we have spent many years following and filming the behaviour of lions in the wild.  Our integrity as wildlife filmmakers is not and has never been in doubt.

As wildlife film makers we abhor the canned hunting industry, the breeding and sale of lions for the hunting or any other trade, and the breeding and use of lion cubs in the tourism petting trade.

We have filmed on Grasslands, a farm owned by Mr Willem De Graaff, on a number of occasions over a number of years. We first filmed on Grasslands in 2003. We recorded a research-driven wild dog translocation from Grasslands to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve five years ago, and we subsequently spent three years on Grasslands filming the SAVING SIRGA: Journey into the Heart of a Lion- series.

If there had been any lion-breeding or other questionable goings-on happening at Grasslands we would certainly have become aware of it during the time we were there. Had we noted any such suspicious activity, we would have stopped filming, raised our concerns with the Botswana Wildlife Department, and we would have left. 

  • As film team we were given complete freedom to travel and film anywhere across the ten thousand hectares of Grasslands on our own. We were not accompanied by anyone and our movements were not restricted or monitored in any way.
  • Not once did we see any evidence whatsoever of any lion breeding programme at Grasslands. Nor did we ever see any tell-tale signs of lions being loaded into trucks, or being traded in any way. If the numbers quoted in the article are anything to go by, it would have been impossible for us not to have noticed the movement, arrival or departure of lions during our time there.
  • We are aware that some lion cubs were born at Grasslands after the first rogue lions were captured by Mr Willie De Graaff. However, when we arrived at Grasslands to film the series all the captive lionesses had already had contraceptive implants inserted for some time. This was confirmed by Dr Rob Jackson the wildlife veterinarian in Maun. No cubs were born on Grasslands after Sirga and her siblings.
  • Mr Willem De Graaff confessed to us on camera that he had shot rogue lions on his cattle farms to protect his livestock. Under Botswana law both commercial and subsistence farmers are allowed to do so if their livestock is threatened. However, some years ago Mr De Graaff had a change of heart. He stopped shooting rogue lions. Instead, with the knowledge and permission of the Botswana Wildlife Department, he was allowed to capture rogue lions and look after them at his own cost until they can be either rehabilitated and returned to the wild in Botswana, or until they die of old age. The captive lions have indeed become tourist attractions at Grasslands, but they are alive and none have ever been sold or exported anywhere.

As far as we know the jury is still out on whether the shooting or poisoning of rogue lions, which still happens on farms across Botswana, is preferable to capturing them.

The Botswana Government has an outstanding conservation record. Commercial lion hunting is banned and the captive predators on Grasslands are monitored by the Wildlife Department.

As documentary film makers we welcome, encourage and embrace robust debate and discussion. The more people talk about lion conservation the more funding it will generate for further lion research. We can however not condone personal attacks and falsehoods from scientists who should know better than to draw conclusions without investigating the facts on the ground.

Our body of work as film makers reflects our lifelong mission to create awareness of the challenges facing lions and efforts to promote the conservation of lions in Africa.

In his article the author refers to George Adamson in derogatory terms and puts Val Gruener in the same category. Few young people today know of George Adamson’s work, but Val Gruener should feel honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as Adamson. There are obvious parallels between the Val and Sirga story, and Adamson’s work. Like Adamson Val also tries to help a young lioness to become the hunter she is meant to be by taking her out into the wild, but whereas Val is only concerned with one lioness, Adamson was a pioneer in his field who reintroduced 14 lions back into the wild in Kenya.

With the notable exception of Dr George Schaller, the renowned lion researcher, scientists and conservationists criticised and reviled Adamson in his lifetime. Yet today most acknowledge that the story of Elsa, a remarkable lioness, created more awareness and goodwill towards lions than any researcher or conservationist before or since.

Few nowadays would dare deny the outstanding work done by the Born Free Foundation, which is the Adamsons’ and Elsa’s legacy. For more about  George Adamson see  http://www.fatheroflions.org/  as well as http://wildfolio.blogspot.com/2010/10/george-adamson.html

It is becoming increasingly clear that scientists and conservationists as well as film makers will have to re-think their conservation awareness-strategies if they are to stay relevant in the twenty-first century, because what they have been doing until now has not worked.

Despite all efforts to make people aware of a great universal heritage, 90% of all wild lions have been lost over the past forty years. That means we have also lost habitat and prey species, because predators and their prey are connected. What happens to the one affects the other. 

Unfortunately, abhorrent as it is, canned lion hunting is not what is killing wild lions in Africa.

The brutal competition for territory and habitat between humans and wild animals is a major cause of much of the disappearance of wildlife in Africa, but is difficult to quantify, difficult to illustrate, and politically sensitive to address. Few television viewers are interested in watching a conservation film unless it features sensationalist or shockingly dramatic visuals of canned hunting.

Lions are disappearing because they threaten the families and the livelihoods of subsistence farmers who feel they have no option but to shoot or poison them. The truth is that right now many people in Africa would prefer all lions and in fact all large predators to be gone forever.

Researchers, conservationists and film makers are partly to blame. For many years most of them failed to listen to the very real problems faced by local populations when it comes to large predators. Most saw African wildlife as their exclusive domain; something to be protected from the indigenous peoples. Few took the trouble to create awareness of or foster a love of wilderness or conservation in the hearts of the people of Africa. Most failed to realise and acknowledge that the future of Africa’s wildlife will ultimately depend on the goodwill of the people of Africa.

If one cattle farmer in Africa decides to stop killing lions and start encouraging others to stop too, researchers and conservationists should encourage him, not vilify him.

If we are to have any chance of encouraging and inspiring African people to save their wildlife, the very least we can expect of scientists and conservationists is that they get their facts straight before accusing African citizens of criminal or amoral acts.

We suggest that the author of the LION AID article channels all his learning and energy into educating and inspiring the youth of Africa instead of fabricating and perpetuating falsehoods.

Because educating and fostering a love of their wild heritage in the young people of Africa might just be our last chance to ensure that lions are still around twenty years from now.

Also read:  SAVNG SIRGA: Why make a series of films about a man and a hand-reared lioness?

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “SAVING SIRGA: Lion Aid gets it Wrong

  1. The only chance to ensure that lions are still around is to decrease the number of living humans. Neither education, love nor Val will help.

    • There is no doubt that human encroachment is one of the major reasons for the disappearance of wilderness and biodiversity on our planet. There are just too many of us and we think we rule the world. We fear for the lions because Africa’s population is set to double in thirty years’ time. but we cannot just throw in the towel now. We have to try to foster a love of wild things with the youth of today, because they’re the ones who will ultimately decide if they want to save wild animals or kill them. That is why we’ll be showing this series in schools in Botswana. We want the youth to fall in love with lions instead of fearing them and wishing them all dead.
      That is why we think Val and Sirga’s story is so important and why we refuse to give up on hope. Please follow us on our Saving Sirga Journey into the heart of a lion facebook page for all the latest news.
      Best wishes, Jurgen, Tarina and Michael

  2. This film and the story of Sirga has impacted me in so many ways. I cannot image a world without Lion’s much less the important predators that inhabit Africa. Humans must wake up realizing our harmful footprint on this world. We can fix so many of the mistakes we have made by becoming aware and educating others.
    How can I follow the progress today that Val has made with Sirga?

    Sincerely,
    Christi

    • Hi Christi, Many thanks for your comments. Yes, we agree that education of the youth especially in Africa is the only way forward, because they will be the ones who will be faced with the choice whether to fight to keep the earth’s wildlife and biodiversity alive or whether to allow it all to disappear. Our experience is that people will try to save what they love and kill what they hate or fear, which is why we made this series. We aim to show the series in schools all over Botswana to show the children here that lions can be loved instead of being hated and feared. Not much time left though, because Africa’s population is set to double in the next thirty years.

    • Thank you for your kind and insightful words. We agree. The best way to follow Sirga’s progress is to follow our Saving Sirga facebook page. We’ll post any new developments on that as soon as it happens.

  3. Education is important, no doubt. Val’s film included. He’s done great work and if everybody was like him- the world would be a better place. With so many humans, protecting nature just won’t work though. They all want to live, breathe, eat, consume and each and every one will destroy part of the environment. It seems nobody realizes that this is the main problem. If lions and nature is what we want to protect, we need to understand that besides education, every human is a threat to the environment.

  4. The thought occurs to me that lions perhaps do not spontaneously see humans as prey. Rather, quite realistically, lions may see us as rivals. Not only are we their rivals with regard to beef and other livestock, but we are rivals regarding turf. Were we to cease to be carnivors, we would no longer be in competition over meat, and competition over land could decline. Recognizing this, other lions besides Sirga, might become tolerant of us, and we of them.

    • Dear Tom, Thank you for your interesting thoughts. There is a lot of truth in what you say. The conflict between humans and wild animals is bound to become more intense as the human population expands into areas traditionally held by wildlife. We need people like you to keep everyone honest!!

  5. This series has captivated me, I’m quickly becoming obsessed! I will encourage everyone I know to watch the story, it is so important to educate! I have learned so much, thank you! I appreciate all of you and all your efforts!! Sirga holds my heart!
    Sherry

    • Hi Sherry, Thank you so much for your wonderful words. We are so happy to hear that you were touched by this story. Sirga is an amazing lioness. The whole film team has come to love her dearly and we cannot wait for the day when she will soon be able to run free in her very own hunting ground! We’ll be there to film her at her new home!

    • Apologies for the delay in answering! Thank you so much for your kind words Sherry. It makes us very happy to know that viewers enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed making it! Sirga is a very special lady. We had never worked with habituated animals before her. We normally prefer working with wild animals, but she has completely captivated us!

  6. As a lifelong Big Cat Lover, wildlife conservationist and proud supporter of saving Africa’s Big Game species… this series was beyond beautifully inspiring, uniquely educational, sadly bittersweet and filled with love beyond all expectations, and accepted by human society. There are so many false notions regarding lions and Africa’s Predators, it is frustrating and melancholic. It would be a dream to volunteer at Grasslands, for what they do is literally saving Africa’s history, culture, and nature while providing education, resources and hope. Watching Sirga and Val in your film series is delightful, very insightful and finds a place deep in your heart where love remains. The work you do, it is sharply inspiring and absolutely vital. These animals need our voices and resources, to not only survive, but THRIVE once again. Those who do not understand your work, nor appreciate what your films set out to accomplish, will simply attack and criticize out of ignorance, lack of empathy and sadly in simple support of “Prized” Big Game Hunting. Keep bringing light, knowledge, compassion and awareness to this critical initiative … you have many species depending on you. And those out there in the world, like me, will always continue to support your efforts and all you set out to accomplish. One day I hope to hear the wild call of a glorious Pride Leader from the far off distance under the beautiful sky of Africa….
    Bravo to you all.

    • Sorry for the delay in replying. We were away in the bush over the years. Thank you so much for your beautiful and inspiring words. It is wonderful to hear that there are still people out there who feel like you and love the magnificent wildlife we are so desperate to save! Listening to lions in the wild at night is a special privilege and it saddens deeply us to think that those voices may soon fade into silence. That is why we made this series, to help people understand just how wonderfully complex and intriguing nature is and just how important it is to understand the minds and hearts of non-human animals, for our own sake if not for theirs before they disappear forever from view. You see, we believe that if people can come to know and love these seemingly fearsome cats, they will tolerate their presence and want to have them around forever! Thank you again for taking the trouble to let us know what you feel.

      • This film gave me an extraodonary vicarious expedience of love at its’ best. . Bravo to you all. I shall let others hear abouttheI. Thank you for your great work.

        • Hi Ashley, Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback! You make us as filmmakers very happy indeed!
          We do apologize for the long delay in answering, but we’ve been hard at work on a new film called I AM LION, which we’re sure you’ll like too.
          We’ll hopefully finally have the funds together to complete it at the end of July.
          All the best.

        • Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback to Saving Sirga Ashley! It is much appreciated,
          We’ll be sure to let you know when the new film I Am Lion is available to view. We think you’ll love this one too!
          With the very best wishes from the team!

  7. I absolutely loved this story. Stayed up late two nights in a row to watch all of it. I love cats, all of them, and Sirga stole my heart. Okay, I’m a grandma, and must admit Val not wearing shoes bothered me:-) All I can think of is what he might step on or what might bite him. Otherwise, this story is amazing and hope more episodes are coming. Thanks for a beautiful story.

    • So happy to hear that you loved the story and enjoyed watching it! Ha, Ha, yes, we don’t think Val’s feet are ever going to recover from all the thorns and scars. They’re disgusting!
      We cannot film any more episodes right now, but we’re almost done with a 90 minute films in which we look at Sirga’s behaviour to see if she is conscious or aware.
      It is called I AM LION, and it will be completed at the end of July. If you want to become involved you’re welcome to have a look on our donation page for more info.
      Great to have grandmas looking at our films!

    • Thank you so much for your amazing feedback Ginger! Yeah, with all the thorns and dirt Val’s feet will never be the same again! Loved that you loved the series and hope that you will enjoy our new film I Am Lion just as much! This one is more about how Sirga learns and develops from her perspective, and how she learns and grows in awareness as a sentient being with Val’s help. It’s a fascinating journey! Only the very best to you and yours! The Tauana Films team

  8. Please continue filming Sirga. We love to follow her and Val and all the people helping to protect wildlife. Thank you for your wonderful work.

    • Hi Kimbinh, thank you so much for your encouragement. It’s difficult for us to film Sirga right now, because she is still in the 1-hectare enclosure, which means she cannot go out to hunt her own food.
      In the meantime we’re making another film called I AM LION, which explores her level of awareness or consciousness using footage we took during the filming of Saving Sirga.
      It’s a completely different look at the life of a lioness and we know people who love Sirga will love this film.

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