I'm A Celebrity ignored warnings from animal welfare groups when using lion cubs

Hosts Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris. Photo: Network Ten
Hosts Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris. Photo: Network Ten

The producers of I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! reportedly ignored warning from animal welfare groups that they were using cubs from the the hunting trade while filming.

Network Ten was forced to defend itself this week after charity Campaign Against Caged Hunting (CACH) claimed the five-week-old white lion cub used in episode 10 was a victim of the wildlife trafficking trade.

The rare white lion cub onI'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Herewas reportedly used from a park which benefits from commercial breeding.

The rare white lion cub onI'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Herewas reportedly used from a park which benefits from commercial breeding.

The rare white lion cub on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here was reportedly used from a park which benefits from commercial breeding. Photo: Ten

CACH is the same organisation for which contestant Dean Geyer was competing and would have been the benefactor of the show's $100,000 prizemoney if the Glee star had won.

CACH has since distanced itself from the show and in a statement said it did not want any prizemoney from I'm A Celebrity.

Canned hunting is a highly-profitable industry in South Africa and allows hunters to make bids in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to shoot big game such as lions and rhinos.

Activist Donalea Patman, who has worked with the federal government on trafficking, warned Ten producers about the cub's origins.

Activist Donalea Patman, who has worked with the federal government on trafficking, warned Ten producers about the cub's origins.

Activist Donalea Patman, who has worked with the federal government on trafficking, warned Ten producers about the cub's origins. Photo: Supplied

I'm A Celebrity production company ITV Studios Australia reportedly ignored warnings from animal welfare groups telling them had been duped into thinking the cub was rescued. Just weeks later they showed Shane Warne with three leopard cubs.

Activist Donalea Patman, founder of NPO For the Love of Wildlife, said she spoke to ITV head of content Ben Ulm on the phone several times as the show was being aired.

"Once we'd seen the five-week-old cub, I spoke to ITV and told them they'd been duped just like every other tourist.

"They didn't want CACH to withdraw because that would raise issues with host Dr Chris Brown's reputation," Ms Patman told Fairfax Media.

"We went on very lengthy discussions about what they were supporting and they said they'd done all their due diligence and research and they continued to participate in this anyway and did it again."

Brown told contestants on-air the cub had been abandoned by its mother and was part of a breeding program to help endangered white lions.

Dean Geyer was competing for the Campaign Against Caged Hunting charity. Photo: Channel 10

Dean Geyer was competing for the Campaign Against Caged Hunting charity. Photo: Channel 10

But the facility where the cub came from, Letaba River Lodge Eco Park, reportedly profits from breeding lions for both tourism and canned hunting.

"It would seem that Network Ten has been duped by the same story told to thousands of gullible tourists and volunteers," CACH said in a statement.

"Letaba is a commercial breeding operation whose breeding activities have no conservation value. None of their lions will ever be released back to the wild as part of a natural functioning ecosystem."

In a statement to TV Tonight, Ten said it had followed guidelines.

"Network Ten takes the welfare of animals very seriously and condemns the hunting of animals. Network Ten, along with ITV Australia, the producers of I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! follow the guidelines as stipulated by the governing authorities, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), to ensure all animals used on set are handled calmly, correctly and safely.

"Letaba River Lodge Eco Park assured ITV Studios Australia that this cub, along with other lions, will remain on the reserve [and] that they do not partake in or associate with canned lion hunting or any other type of hunting. Letaba has lions on the reserve that are used for educational purposes, tourism and photography at events."

But these guidelines only apply to whether a lion has food and shelter and adequate care, not whether they are part of the hunting trade. South Africa's National Council of SPCAs strictly warns against cub petting.

"Unfortunately, the lion breeding projects in South Africa are purely money driven and have precious little to do with conservation," the NSPCA website warns.

"There is substantial evidence to suggest that these animals are often sold or returned to a predator breeding facility from which they are often sold as trophies into the very lucrative canned hunting industry that has thrived in South Africa in the last 12 years."

Ms Patman said it was an opportunity for both Ten and Brown to promote the ethical treatment of animals.

"Africa's lions require urgent attention. It's estimated as few as 20,000 are left in the wild. However, it needs to be understood that breeding lions in captivity and exposing them to commercial exploitation has nothing to do with solving their plight.

"The continuous support of the breeding facilities by tourists and television stations simply feeds the cycle of brutality."