To save or not to save
Several farms, often driven by kind individuals with the very best of motives, have set up 'orphanage' or 'rehabilitation' programmes in Namibia for injured/unwanted animals. Harnas, Kaross and Okonjima spring to mind as the high-profile examples – but they are not the only ones.
Before visiting, it's perhaps worth considering the logic of some of the arguments for this, and perhaps discussing the issues with your hosts whilst there.
Some aim just to keep alive damaged or orphaned animals, some of which can be rehabilitated and released, though others can't be. The problems of keeping, say, a small orphaned antelope like a bushbuck are minimal. However, the problems caused by big cats are more major. Keeping such carnivores is difficult, as they need to be in very secure pens. Further, animals need to be killed to feed them. If it's a kindness to keep an injured lion alive, what about the horses, cows or antelope that have to be slaughtered to feed it? Why is the lion's life more valuable than the herbivores?
Demand for visitors to see big cats, and other 'sexy' species, close up make keeping habituated big cats a potentially lucrative draw for one's guest farm. (Note that I don't use the term 'tame' as neither lions nor leopards ever seem to become anything like truly tame.)
So is this why it's done?
Cynics claim that it's far from pure compassion. They question why there's a paucity of rescue centres for, say, black-faced impala? They're a species that are seriously endangered and rare. Very beautiful and well-worth preserving – but are they sexy enough to attract guests? Probably not, the cynics observe.
Pragmatic conservationists have lots of time for projects to preserve species, but many argue that individual animals are much less important. And as neither lions nor leopards are anything like rare – nor will they be in the near future – they really don't fall into this bracket at all. Most conservationists don't see the point in spending time and money keeping a lion alive when the same money could go towards preserving a whole ecosystem elsewhere.
One could argue, however, that when well-run such projects generate large incomes from visitors. This cash can then be used to fund serious, necessary (but perhaps less attractive) research programmes, or education programmes, which really do benefit Africa's wildlife on a much broader scale. That's a fine argument – but if it's the case, and this is their rationale for keeping caged animals as an attraction to raise money, then the cynics argue that it's time such organisations came clean.