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INVESTIGATION: Inside a South African lion farm

Doug Wolhuter: The lion has been known as the king of the jungle, and then you see it reduced to basically an intensively farmed animal. You’ve removed everything regal and noble about the animal. Soul destroying.

RACHEL FOBAR: ‘Thirty-four lions were crammed into a muddy enclosure meant for three. Rotting chicken carcasses and cattle body parts littered the ground. Feces piled up in corners. Algae grew in water bowls. Twenty-seven of the lions were so afflicted with mange, a painful skin disease caused by parasitic mites, that they’d lost nearly all their fur. Three cubs lay twitching in the dirt, one draped over the blackened leg of a cow, its hoof visible. Mewling, they struggled—but failed—to drag themselves forward. A fourth cub looked on, motionless… Although the number of captive lions in South Africa has been estimated at between 6,000 and 8,000, there may now be as many as 10,000, according to conservationist Ian Michler…

“Soul destroying.” That’s how Douglas Wolhuter, senior inspector with South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), describes the scene at Pienika Farm, in North West Province, on April 11, 2019. The NSPCA is responsible for enforcing the country’s Animals Protection Act, and Wolhuter was conducting an inspection of Pienika, one of the more than 250 privately owned lion farms in South Africa. “Ever since I’ve been a young kid, a lion has been known as the king of the jungle,” Wolhuter says. “And then you see it reduced to basically an intensively farmed animal—you’ve removed everything regal and noble about the animal”…

Some ranches may offer “canned” hunts, in which lions are confined to fenced areas. Sport hunters may pay as much as $50,000 to kill lions so they can keep the skins and heads as trophies. The bones and other unwanted parts may be exported to Asia, where they’re used in traditional medicine. South Africa sets a quota for the number of lion skeletons that can be exported legally every year. For conservationists and animal welfare advocates, Pienika symbolizes everything that’s wrong with South Africa’s lion farms.

The captive-lion industry has been criticized as being largely unregulated: South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries doesn’t regularly track the number of captive lions, demand for lion bone has grown, and monitoring animal welfare is left to the short-staffed and underfunded NSPCA. What started as a small industry has burgeoned to a size that some, including Karen Trendler, who manages the NSPCA’s wildlife trade and trafficking unit, describe as uncontrollable: “A monster has been created that now has to be fed,” she says’SOURCE…


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