I wanna hug a lion.
May 9, 2015 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I want to hang out with baby lions and tigers. Is there a place I can do this?

In thinking about the ol' bucket list lately, this is pretty much the one thing I *really* want to do that I haven't done. I want to pet baby wild cats. Are there rescue facilities or similar where you can pay to do this? I don't want it to be abusive or slipshod in any way, obviously, I want this to be some kind of professional facility where proper and respectful care of the animals is paramount. I'm not sure something like this really exists, but there are pictures on the internet of people hugging baby lions so somebody's got to be letting you do it somewhere. Do you know of a legit place somewhere in the US or Canada?
posted by something something to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am pretty sure this is never going to be a good idea, because anywhere where the business model relies on having a lot of baby lions and tigers around for the public to pet is... uh, let me put it this way, not going to be super focused on what to do with the adult animals. A lion is a baby for what, a year? And they can live well into their twenties. I would want to know exactly where the adults go for the rest of their lives, and given everything I know about the way that sanctuaries are overflowing with lions and tigers bred either for attractions like this, morons who want to keep them as pets, or things like the circus or shut-down zoos... well, put it this way, unless you're breeding cats for conservation I'm not sure you should be breeding lions or tigers at all.

There are certainly places which exist that will let you pet a baby lion or a baby tiger. I don't think I've ever heard of one that was what I'd call ethical in the long run. Sorry not to have a more cheerful answer for you. :/
posted by sciatrix at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2015 [16 favorites]

There are large animal rescue shelters in various places around the United States. I don't have a particular "in" with any of them, but from your profile and a quick search, you might talk to the folks at Suzie's Pride.

Or if you have a game park local to you, often they really really want to socialize baby rescues who can't ever be re-introduced into the wild (e.g. permanent injuries), because even as those animals grow and change to the point where they're not safe to be in close contact with humans, animals that have socialized with humans are more docile and accepting.

The cost of getting that picture may not be monetary, it may be helping out and volunteering around a rescue shelter enough that you gain the skills and knowledge necessary to be with the animals, but if you really really wanna do it...
posted by straw at 1:41 PM on May 9, 2015

Volunteer at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina. You will not get to hug baby tigers or lions. If you're there long enough, you may get to hold a baby ocelot or the like.
You will get to feed tigers and lions some chickens (dead ones) and frozen mice! You can cut up fruit and feed kinkajoos and binturongs. You will help build compounds for the animals.
You will get to know them all by name, they will get to know you. You may be stalked by a leopard, or at least they'll think they're stalking you as you walk by. If you can follow direction and be there long enough you make get your hand 'kissed' (licked) by a black leopard. I fed blueberry pie to a bear that had its claws and teeth ripped out so a human could 'fight' it. I fed spare-ribs to the last Barbari leopard in the world (a sub species). Go there, do this, learn why your desire to hug baby lions and tigers is probably one of the worst ideas you have come up with.
You can do much better.
posted by donaken at 2:13 PM on May 9, 2015 [25 favorites]

T.I.G.E.R.S. in Myrtle Beach came up as an answer to a similar previous question.
posted by twoporedomain at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I want this to be some kind of professional facility where proper and respectful care of the animals is paramount. I'm not sure something like this really exists

It doesn't, as far as cub-petting is concerned.

there are pictures on the internet of people hugging baby lions so somebody's got to be letting you do it somewhere.

Oh, they are. Using stressed, abused, often drugged and declawed animals, which are condemned to a grim eventual fate - death, private ownership in inadequate conditions, the black market in big cat body parts, the canned hunting industry, breeding machines to sustain the cub supply - once their short window of cuteness and enforced biddabilty has expired.

Cub-petting is a bad idea, for many reasons. Please don't pursue it.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 3:20 PM on May 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Dang. This is kind of what I figured. Thanks.
posted by something something at 3:47 PM on May 9, 2015

I had a friend/girlfriend in the 1990's who went on to do this after we were no longer together. I'm not in touch with her any longer and I haven't spoken with her about it, but when I googled her about ten years ago she was leading healing and empowerment sessions and workshops that somehow incorporated contact with lions. There were photos of her with her arms around full grown lions and hanging out with lion families.

She was born and raised in rural Africa -- lion country. That's where this was taking place. Not in a zoo or anything like that, but out in the bush in South Africa or Zambia. There is no way she would have gotten involved with anything involving poaching, abuse, separating cubs from their families, etc. I don't know how she was doing it and what safety measures she took, if any. The pictures were kind of freaky, actually. Amazing but heart-stopping too.

As far as I can tell from an online search she's not doing it anymore, but if you're interested I could put you in touch with her. Please memail if you'd like that.
posted by alms at 7:28 PM on May 9, 2015

I went to T.I.G.E.R.S. In Myrtle Beach. I had a great experience and have no regrets. I'd recommend.
posted by kat518 at 7:50 PM on May 9, 2015

I did some brief research into T.I.G.E.R.S. and I would not recommend them. It's an emotionally charged issue, so it's hard to find clear information, but here's what The Humane Society says:
During the span of the investigations, twelve tigers who were born at [two abusive facilities] were sent to T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. T.I.G.E.R.S. is a substandard facility that breeds, trades and exhibits big cats and other exotic animals, and has built a large and very profitable business by charging the public exorbitant prices for tours and photos with young animals. When one of the investigators accompanied the owner of Tiger Safari to T.I.G.E.R.S., she received a behind-the-scenes tour where she witnessed dozens of adult tigers crammed into cement horse stalls in a darkened barn.
There are two problems with what you want to do. The first is that you're probably not going to find a non-exploitative facility that allows you to pet the baby animals; it's stressful for them, and there's probably no ethical way to keep the supply of baby animals coming. The second is that even if you did find that magical, non-exploitative facility, it's the customer demand to pet baby animals that's keeping the exploitative facilities in business.

The only way to do this ethically, IMHO, is to become seriously involved as a volunteer or employee at a big cat rescue. You do not want to approach this as a "customer."
there are pictures on the internet of people hugging baby lions
These pictures should make you sad for the animals, instead of envious of the people hugging them.

I think this is one of those things that you might have to give up. And it's okay to be sad about that, but if you do, you should feel good about it too -- because you put doing what's right ahead of doing what you want.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:28 PM on May 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

Maybe turn your bucket list item into a fun/humorous one - fly to NYC and hug an insanely expensive toy lion at FAO Schwarz, or buy a soft toy one and stage a fake Safari somewhere? Then make a donation to the animal charity of your choice. Cross it off you list and maybe even have made a difference at the same time.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:16 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing that while this is an understandable wish (they are really cute), it's a fraught area filled with abuse. Maybe you could instead turn this into a visit to a wildlife sanctuary with rescued animals?

Big Cat Rescue - Abuse Issues lists "Petting lion and tiger cubs" as the top most egregious issue that harms big cats. They're a rescue org in Florida that takes in a great deal of rescues, notably from the petting trade. Follow them on Facebook to get loads of cute cat pics, and stories about rescues. The rescued animal stories will go a long way towards widening your view on this.

Be a Big Cat Friendly Tourist
Easy ways YOU and your family can be responsible tourists:
• Never pay to touch or have your photo taken with a tiger or lion cub
• Don’t attend circuses, fairs, or attractions that feature wild animal shows
• Don’t purchase items made from wild animals, such as furs and rugs
• Don’t partake in local “delicacies” made from wild animals, such as tiger bone wine
• Only visit sanctuaries that are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (www.sanctuaryfederation.org).
posted by fraula at 12:00 AM on May 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

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