108 lions were found in deplorable conditions at a farm in South Africa’s North West province, exposing the cruel truth of the country’s captive lion-breeding industry.
National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), was alerted to the situation at Pienika Farm through an anonymous tip. When inspectors arrived at the facility, what they saw the first time was horrifying. Lions, which need a lot of space to thrive, had been packed into filthy, overcrowded enclosures.
Moreover, they didn’t have access to water, and 27 of lions were covered in mange, a skin disease caused by parasitic mites, losing nearly all their fur. Two cubs at the facility appeared to be suffering from neurological conditions and they couldn’t walk. Ultimately, a veterinarian had to euthanised one.
Not only lions, other big cats such as tigers, leopards and caracals, a mid-size wild cat, were also found at the facility in poor conditions as well. Senior inspector Douglas Wolhuter said that the caracals were so obese that they could not groom themselves. House cats that are obese and can’t groom themselves are a serious issue, and in this case, the wild cats are the victims.
“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,” said Wolhuter.
Lion captivity industry
If you don’t know it yet, captive-bred lion industry is something controversial but legal in South Africa. It generates tens of millions of dollars each year, but the big cats have to suffer. It has been estimated that as many as 14,000 lions are being held on hundreds of farms. And from birth to death, the lions are said to be exploited for profit.
Cubs are taken from their mothers and hand-raised by volunteers from abroad, who pay for the opportunity and are often under the mistaken impression that the lions will be released to the wild. Farms also charge tourists to take photos with the cubs and, when the lions are a little older, to go on walks with them.
Once the animals get too big to safely be around humans, they are sold off for “canned” hunts. Canned hunts are another form of trophy hunting but the lions are placed in fenced areas so that they can’t escape. According to Humane Society International, most trophy hunters who participate in these events are from the United States.
Britain’s Daily Mail reported that undercover investigators, which includes ex-Special Forces soldiers, have exposed how hunters and middlemen from the country get involved in the lion trade.
British rich hunters pay as much as £42,300 to shoot a large male, and the male lions often end up as trophy head on a wall. Some hunters also may not have known the animals they had shot had been raised for illegal hunts.
Ian Michler, a journalist and conservationist, said that Pienika Farm lions were most likely in that condition because they’re bred for bone trade. While lions that interact with tourists and hunters need to look healthy, the same cannot be said for animals that are being reared for their skeletons.
“If you’re breeding lions for the lion bone trade, they don’t care what those lions look like because at the end of the day, all they’re going to do is end up in a sack, a bag of bones that’s going to go to Asia,” said Michler. If you wonder what the skeletons are for, you should know first that they are good money. They skeletons are about £125 a kilo, or £4,600 for a whole skeleton, including the skull.
When the bones reach East Asian markets, lion bones are sold as tiger bones which the Asians rave because they’re believed to have medicinal properties. Nearly all of the legal sales go to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, where the bones are boiled down and then consumed in whatever ways possible.
The international trade of tiger parts is largely prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty, but the regulations are not as strict for lions, so sellers take advantage of this and exploit it.
“Lion bone leaves South Africa legally, with CITES permits, but once it arrives in Southeast Asia it is typically relabeled as tiger bone and smuggled to black markets across the region; thus the legal product feeds illegal business,” said Welz.
What’s said is that the owner of Pienika Farm, Jan Steinman, is listed as a member of the South African Predator Association Council. For those who don’t know, it’s an organization that works to maintain healthy and sustainable predator breeding and hunting industry in South Africa” as stated in the website.
The ones who insist on doing captive lion breeding say that the industry helps conservation by reducing poaching of wild lions. But critics say that most breeding facilities have no conservation value. In my opinion, that doesn’t make it right, because it’s very inhumane to let these lions starve, dehydrated, and suffer so long before they were going to die.
According to Live Science, Steinman is now facing criminal charges for animal cruelty. It’s still unclear whether this disturbing case will lead to any policy changes in South Africa. Last year, the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) raised its annual lion skeleton export quota from 800 to 1,500. That decision were met with outcry and so the government subsequently appointed a panel to review the captive breeding trade and bring the quota back down.
However, according to Conservation Action Trust, the DEA “backtracked on the Parliamentary Resolution to introduce legislation to end the Captive Breeding of Lions in South Africa and proposed instead to allow the industry to continue with the introduction of regulation and appropriate legislation.”
What about the abused lions? Unfortunately, it’s also unclear. After years in captivity, they cannot be released into the wild, and South Africa does not have enough sanctuaries to take all of them. Audrey Delsink, executive director of Human Society International/Africa, said, “There is sadly no quick fix to re-home more than 100 lions all at once. It’s an extremely sad situation, with these lions the innocent victims.”
What do you think of this situation? I honestly don’t know what to say or what to do because these lions definitely need help and at the same time, it seems that we can’t save all abused lions there. What are your thoughts? Share them down below and share this news/findings to everyone so that help might come for these poor big cats.