While the backpacker business has long been thriving, the growing popularity of wildlife tourism has brought about a new, problematic set of social media stars in the form of wild animals held in captivity. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find Instagrammers posing alongside tigers, elephants, dolphins, bears, and monkeys, which are more often than not chained, drugged, or even mutilated in exchange for a photo.
“Most tourists who enjoy these encounters don’t know that the adult tigers may be declawed, drugged, or both,” wrote Natasha Daly in an article for the National Geographic earlier this year. “Or that there are always cubs for tourists to snuggle with because the cats are speed bred and the cubs are taken from their mothers just days after birth. Or that the elephants give rides and perform tricks without harming people only because they’ve been ‘broken’ as babies and taught to fear the bullhook.”
In a bid to educate people about lion captivity, Born Free Foundation has brought Engine on board for a project exposing the harsh reality of backpackers’ Instagram snaps with lions. It examines the situation in South Africa in particular, where at least 70% of lions are reportedly born in captivity.
At the heart of the project is an animated short film, The Bitter Bond, which was made with the help of Blinkink and Sao Paulo-based Zombie Studio. It was released to coincide with the launch of a petition to “end the great betrayal” of canned hunting, a practice involving lions being bred on a farm to satisfy demand among trophy hunters.
The Bitter Bond is soundtracked by Matt Monro’s iconic ballad Born Free, though the story makes it clear that many of South Africa’s lions are not. The story traces the typical life of a lion born in captivity, before arriving at an abrupt conclusion that drives home the issue and shatters the innocent hope at the film’s start.
The short is full of charm, thanks to a characterful animation style that sits somewhere between Wes Anderson’s puppet aesthetic and the wide-eyed, exaggerated feel of a Pixar film. “Our last films have been made 100% in 3D animation but for Born Free we chose to mix techniques,” said Paolo Garcia, co-founder and Chief Creative at Zombie Studio. “We went with 3D animation for its fluidity and the room it allowed for expressive characteristics but combined it with the beauty and richness of detail from camera-captured, and motion-controlled scenarios.”
Expertly contrasting the heartwarming nature of the lion with the ultimate act of betrayal by its keeper, the film is a bittersweet watch that will likely resonate strongly with animal lovers and be widely shared across social media.
ECD: Paul Jordan
Creative Directors: Steve Hawthorne
Creatives: James Hodson, Jason Keet
Production: Blinkink, Zombie Studio
Directed by: Daniel Salles, Paulo Garcia
Animation, visual effects: Zombie Studio