More than 100 severely neglected lions, tigers, and other animals living in poor conditions were confiscated from a South African breeding facility in what rescuers are calling a “deploring” and “horrific” situation.
According to Humane Society International in Africa (HIS/A), authorities were tipped off by an anonymous source who captured photos of the 27 lions almost entirely bald from acute mange in overcrowded, poor living conditions. Two of the lion cubs appeared to be suffering from a neurological condition that left them unable to walk.
“Other issues such as small enclosures and inadequate shelter, no provision of water, overcrowding, and filthy and parasitic conditions were noted in the camps that contained the lions, caracals, tigers, and leopards,” said NSPCA’s senior inspector Douglas Wolhuter in a statement. “Twenty-seven of the lions had mange and the caracals were obese and unable to properly groom themselves.”
Officers at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) entered the Pienika Farm property last month and have since laid criminal charges under the Animal Protection Act against its owner, Jan Steinman, who is reportedly listed as a council member of the South African Predator Association (SAPA), dedicated to “establishing and maintaining a healthy and profitable predator breeding and hunting industry.” The facility was used to breed wild animals for local and international trade for trophy hunting and lion bones.
"It is deplorable that any animal would be forced to live in such conditions, with such medical ailments. The fact that these are wild animals that are already living unnatural lives in confinement for the purposes of trade, just makes it more horrific," he said.
South Africa is a major tourism hub that sees around 10.3 million visitors every year. Currently, there are no welfare issues on member lion facilities, but SAPA said that it sets “very high standards for [its] members” last August at a meeting on captive lion breeding programs. Conditions observed at the facility were in violation of both national animal welfare legislation and rules on animal welfare, husbandry of hunting lions, minimum enclosure size, and the trade of lion projects, according to Conservation Action. Some enclosures housed more than 30 lionesses – less than a quarter of the space required by rules and regulations set forth by SAPA.
With less than 3,000 wild lions, South Africa has more of the big cats living in captivity than in the wild. It’s estimated that as many as 8,000 are bred in 200 farms throughout the country, a majority of which go towards “snuggle scams”. A 1997 documentary titled Cook Report first brought to light the captive lion breeding industry used to fuel trophy hunting. Subsequently, a 2015 expose called Blood Lions showed how tourists are "being lured" to South Africa to walk or snuggle lion cubs, some even volunteering to hand-rear the cubs thinking their money goes towards conservation measures.
Lions are a threatened species and listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). International convention prohibits the trade of bones from wild lions but does allow for those from lions that are captive-bred, even though it’s impossible to differentiate from the two.
It is unclear what will happen to the confiscated lions. HSI/A reports there are no reputable facilities in South Africa that would be able to take in so many animals.