Photos show over 100 malnourished lions being bred for their bones in South African facility
This article contains images some viewers may find disturbing
More than 100 lions and other animals were found diseased, overcrowded, and near death in a captive breeding facility in South Africa in one of the most shocking cases of animal neglect ever seen.
An anonymous tipster reached out to a journalist about the issue, who then contacted the National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), the body responsible for enforcing South Africa's legislation on animal welfare, National Geographic reports.
At least 27 lions were found to be afflicted with mange — a skin disease brought on by parasitic mites — when NSPCA inspectors visited the facility at Pienika Farm.
The condition of the affected animals was reportedly so severe that they had lost almost all their fur.
The lions were confined to filthy, overcrowded enclosures where 30 of them were held in spaces meant for just two.
Furthermore, at least three cubs were unable to walk after they were found to be suffering from a neurological condition called meningoencephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. One of them had to be put out of their misery.
Douglas Wolhuter, manager of the NSPCA wildlife protection unit that inspected the farm, spoke to National Geographic. “It’s hard to describe because it leaves you feeling hollow, knowing that you’ve got the king of the jungle in conditions like that,” he said. “It’s soul-destroying.”
According to previous reports, animals part of South Africa’s captive lion industry are often held in unsatisfactory living conditions.
Pienika Farm is reportedly owned by Jan Steinman, a council member of the South African Predator Association (SAPA). SAPA favors captive breeding and describes hunting as “legitimate and ecologically responsible.”
While the organization requires its members to “maintain high ethical standards", Steinman is facing a charge from the NSPCA for violating South Africa's Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962. The penalty for the crime is about $2,700 or one year in jail for each charge that leads to a conviction.
Meanwhile, SAPA CEO Deon Swart has denied Steinman's position as part of the association's leadership. “He’s just an ordinary member of the organization,” he said.
That said, SAPA announced in a press release today they had “conducted an in-depth investigation” and that they would “immediately institute disciplinary action against Mr. Steinman.”
An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 predators — mostly lions — were being held in captive-breeding facilities across South Africa, according to 2015 documentary Blood Lions. Narrator Ian Michler estimates that the number today has easily crossed 10,000.
Tourists are allowed to pet, bottle-feed, take selfies with lion cubs for a price. Most captive lions, according to Michler, are shot to death by trophy hunters at the end of their lives. These hunts are brutal: The lions are held in fenced areas from which they have no escape and face certain death. While the hunters are allowed to keep the skins and heads, the bones and other parts are exported to high paying customers in Asia, where they are used in traditional medicine.
Another disheartening fact is that South Africa sets an annual quota for the number of lion skeletons that can be exported by law.
According to Michler, the lions held at Pienika Farm were most likely being bred for the lion bone trade, as animals used for tourism or trophy hunting "need to appear healthy."
It is apparently common for lions to be neglected if they are slated for the bone trade. “If you’re breeding lions for the lion bone trade, they don’t care what those lions look like,” he said. “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.”
As of now, the Pienika lions are being held in the same facility as officials await results of the investigation and subsequent court proceedings.
According to the Humane Society's Wildlife Director Audrey Delsink, the future is very uncertain for the lions as they cannot be released into the wild — they have been in captivity their whole lives. Also, there aren't enough competent sanctuaries in the country to take in all the animals.
“The future for these cats is bleak,” Delsink said, “because there’s very few options available to them.”