LIONSROCK reception

FOUR PAWS reopens its LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary for visitors

State-of-the-art ethical tourism and animal welfare education in South Africa


Vienna/South Africa, 9 January 2023After a year of transformations, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has reopened its LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary near Bethlehem, South Africa. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LIONSROCK closed for visitors in 2021, and a new concept was developed.

On 6 January, FOUR PAWS CEO Josef Pfabigan officially introduced the new era at one of South Africa’s five ‘true sanctuaries’ during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The new concept of LIONSROCK combines a strong focus on ethical tourism and awareness for sustainability with a unique educational experience. Moreover, the sanctuary functions as a centre of excellence and role model for the professional approach and highest animal welfare standards FOUR PAWS stands for.

“The reopening of LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary for day visits and overnight stays is an important part of the work of FOUR PAWS for animal welfare worldwide. With a new visitor concept, the sanctuary is now a state-of-the-art destination for ethical tourism and animal welfare education. Letting visitors get insights into the lives of all our rescued animals enables us to spread the word about the global work of FOUR PAWS, in South Africa, as well as around the world,”

Josef Pfabigan, CEO of FOUR PAWS

The construction of the new look to the accommodation started in 2022 and was the result of months of strategic planning and consultation with tourism industry specialists during which it became apparent just how unique LIONSROCK truly is in Africa. The sanctuary was opened for the first time in February 2008. It is one of the five ‘true sanctuaries’ for big cats in South Africa which travellers who have an ecological and ethical vision, focusing on animal welfare, can visit with peace of mind.

An ethical one-of-a-kind, educational holiday experience

“The reopening of LIONSROCK marks a complete paradigm shift from a traditional tourism and hospitality focus to highlighting animal welfare, the core purpose of FOUR PAWS. There will also be a new emphasis on education in the appearance of the accommodation, as well as the content of tours,” says Carsten Hertwig, Director of the Sustainable Sanctuaries department at FOUR PAWS.

Designed with animal welfare and conservation-minded visitors in mind, elegant wall murals depicting LIONSROCK’s much-loved big cats are installed in the visitor area, and a new curio shop was designed. Visitors can join for a guided drive in the LIONSROCK safari vehicle, as well as feeding time tours. A special feature is the inclusion of an air bridge and platform tour which allows a bird’s eye view of the sanctuary.

“Regardless of a visit being two hours or seven days, visitors will leave more knowledgeable of animal welfare, the importance of rescuing wild animals from exploitative conditions at the hands of humans and the hard work and careful planning that happens daily in a big cat sanctuary. We hope that the experience will move people to return to their lives educated and equipped to make changes in a sustainable way in their daily lives and live a little kinder. The true beauty of LIONSROCK will always be our rescued big cats in their species-appropriate enclosures and the free-roaming animals on the surrounding land. Their uniqueness remains unmatched,” says Hertwig.

The new LIONSROCK concept includes different tours for day visitors, educational guest packages and special interest packages. An ‘Animal Welfare Academy’ program, as well as a volunteer and internship programme are currently in development.

A home for over 100 rescued big cats in South Africa

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary is currently home to 111 rescued big cats, including lions, tigers and leopards. They were rescued from private keeping, circuses, zoos or conflict zones in Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Gaza, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Syria, and the Netherlands.

In November 2006, global welfare organisation FOUR PAWS took over the former game reserve and lodge and constructed new enclosures, upgraded the infrastructure and turned it into a species-appropriate forever home for its residents. With taking over the property, FOUR PAWS also rescued 25 lions living on it in inappropriate keeping conditions. The first European lions arrived at LIONSROCK in November 2007 from Austria and Romania. The most recent additions in November 2022 are ten lions rescued from a breeding facility in Gauteng in South Africa.

The sanctuary, named after a prominent rock formation at its centre, encompasses a total area of 1,250 hectares. The enclosures for the big cats and other carnivores take an area of 60 hectares. The land is also inhabited by other typical South African species that live freely like zebras and antelopes. Furthermore, there is also a wide variety of bird species that have found refuge on the property. 

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary is one of the 13 wild animal sanctuaries and cooperation projects established by FOUR PAWS worldwide. The global animal welfare organisation runs sanctuaries in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Ukraine, Vietnam and the Netherlands, protecting 280 animals including bears, big cats and other wild animal species rescued from human exploitation. In 2022, FOUR PAWS welcomed 250,000 visitors in its sanctuaries.

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Romanian lions at LIONSROCK

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Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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