Born Free campaign reveals shocking reality behind South Africa's 'Instagram lions'

Animated film by Engine has a terrible twist.

Wildlife charity Born Free exposes the truth behind lion tourism in an animated ad with a brutal twist. 

Created by Engine, the campaign raises awareness of the exploitation of South Africa’s lions and urges people to sign a petition calling on the government to stop canned hunting. At least 70% of the country's lions are born in captivity and bred for tourists to visit and photograph. Yet when the animals outgrow their use, they are sold to trophy hunters and shot in canned hunting facilities. This practice is legal and thriving in South Africa. 

The film, entitled "The bitter bond", tells the story of a lion keeper and her cub. Relying on the device of misdirection, the narrative initially paints a heartwarming portrait of their bond and portrays the keeper as a nurturing presence. At the last moment, however, it becomes clear that she has actually sold the lion and profited from its death. 

It is set to the Academy Award-winning song Born Free, performed by Matt Monro. 

The ad references true stories that have captivated the public: the killing of Cecil, a lion that was an attraction at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe; and the viral YouTube video showing a reunion between full-grown lion Christian and the conservationist who released it into the wild. The work also capitalises on the popularity of the animal following the Lion King remake this summer. 

It was created by James Hodson and Jason Keet, and directed by Daniel Salles and Paulo Garcia through Blinkink and Zombie Studio. 

The creative team said they chose the technique of animation to trick people into thinking this was a charming story and thus amplify the emotional impact of the keeper’s betrayal. Zombie Studio used a combination of 3D animation and camera-captured, handcrafted sets to create the film. 

Paul Jordan, executive creative director of Engine, creative and experience design, said: "The film is cleverly designed to work in two ways. Firstly, to make tourists think twice before handing over for selfies with lion cubs. Secondly, to get everyone to sign Born Free’s petition to get the South African government to end this great betrayal and finally put a stop to canned hunting."

Virginia McKenna, co-founder of Born Free, added: "We hope this powerful film, which exposes the full horror of what is happening, will inspire people everywhere to join our mission, urging the South African government to end the great betrayal."

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