Lion cubs in captivity | Blood Lions

Published on June 24 2022
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SATSA captive wildlife & activities guidelines

Visiting captive wildlife tourism facilities in South Africa

As the safari and wildlife tourism industries evolve, visitors are presented with more opportunities to support wildlife conservation and rehabilitation efforts. All efforts are not created equal and, despite your best intentions, you may unknowingly be supporting behaviors that are detrimental to the animals’ wellbeing.

SATSA Captive Wildlife Interactions Guide & Tool

In 2019, in response to a mandate from their members to develop clear, ethical guidelines for the captive wildlife tourism industry in South Africa, the South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) published their guide and tool. These tools can help tourists make better choices when selecting a tour operator and when looking to visit a captive wildlife tourism facility in South Africa.

SATSA guide and tool

The SATSA guide is 37 pages long and is the results of 12 months of research and investigation led by Lee-Anne Bac from BDO. The research and investigation draws upon the work of Professor David Bilchitz. The guidelines state that “the interests of animals should not be subordinate to the benefits humans derive from their existence.”

SATSA quote

SATSA Guidelines

They were created with four main audiences in mind:

- Visitors—foreign and local visitors looking to visit animal attractions
- Owners—People owning captive wildlife facilities that allow visitor engagement with wildlife
- Buyers—DMCs (destination management companies), tour operators and other travel agencies
- Representatives—Industry associations, local and national government departments and local tourism agencies


Conservation agencies that incorporate the SATSA guidelines and tools into their own wildlife conservation campaigns include Blood Lions, a South African wildlife conservation agency. #Thinkbeforeyougo is a social media campaign to help draw attention to the SATSA guidelines and to give some clarity to tourists looking to visit a South African wildlife sanctuary. It breaks down the activities to look for, and those to avoid. It also provides questions tourists can ask facility owners, to help them determine if the facility genuinely has the animals’ best interest in mind.

SATSA tool

The SATSA unacceptable captive wildlife activities

1. Performing animals
2. Tactile interactions with all infant wild animals e.g. cub petting
3. Walking with predators or elephants
4. Physical interactions with predators or cetaceans
5. Riding of wild animals

Criteria when considering an animal sanctuary. All conditions must be met for it to be compliant.

1. No breeding of animals
2. No trading of animals
3. No performing animals
4. No animals in tactile interactions/walking with the public
5. Animals are in captivity because they were sick, injured, orphaned, rescued, donated and/or abandoned
6. The animals have a home for life or will be used for in-situ repopulation by reintegration back to the wild or be relocated as part of a recognized conservation program
7. The facility is compliant with all relevant legislation and is transparent in its operations and marketing collateral


It’s not always easy to know if a facility meets the ethical criteria sugested by the SATSA Captive Wildlife Interactions Guidelines and Decision Tool, which is one reason why Gavin Reynolds and Brett Mitchell—two members of the 2018 SATSA board committee—founded WildChoices in 2021. They launched the site in March 2022 with 219 assessed facilities. WildChoices identifies the captive wildlife facilities with tourist activities in South Africa. Using the SATSA Decision Tree, it determines whether the institution meets all, some or none of the criteria, and produces a rating based on the level of compliance.

WildChoices map

The support recommendations are color-coded for easy reference.
Avoid—facilities that meet one or more of the disqualifying criteria of the SATSA Captive Wildlife Interactions Tools. Organizations in this category are in red.
Support with caution—facilities that don't meet any of the disqualifying criteria of facilities that are to be avoided  but that practice some, not all, of the criteria for a true sanctuary or rehabilitation center. Organizations in this category are in orange.
Support—facilities that meet all of the qualifying criteria and none of the disqualifying criteria. They are color-coded in green.

WildChoices assessment results

Helping tourists make more informed decisions

Your African Safari, Blood Lions and WildChoices support the SATSA guidelines and decision tools and welcome visitors to download and reference them when planning a visit to a South African captive wildlife tourism facility. We encourage you to reference their database prior to booking any sanctuary visit. If there’s a facility you’re looking to visit that is not on their list, you can contact them and let them know.


About the author

Has been on: 15 safaris

Your African Safari (YAS) is a safari-planning resource for anyone planning an African safari. It features information on over 2600 tour operators including company and vehicle descriptions, user reviews, safari itineraries and photos. It also features detailed information on 14 countries and 84 parks and game reserves.

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Said on 03 March 2023 03:05

protect the wild

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About YAS

Your African Safari is a safari-planning and safari review site. It was created to help support a healthy African wildlife population. All reviews are vetted before being approved and only ethical tours are published