There are more lions living on “farms” across South Africa than there are living in the wild there — and undercover photos just released show a glimpse of what life can be like for one of the world’s most majestic species.
Reduced to lying on dry, dusty ground, eating scraps of meat, many of the lions at the breeding facility at Pienika Farm in the North West Province were discovered to be bald and suffering from mange.
Two lion cubs were shown with severe disorders, apparently unable to even stand up on their own. Other lions were shown to be shoved into crowded areas without sufficient shelter or water.
This is just one facility in a network of about 200 facilities that cash in on people’s desire to be close to the big cats. Advocates at Humane Society International (HSI) have a name for the cycle of exploitation that is perpetuated by these “farms” — they call it the “snuggle scam.” That’s because tourists are duped into believing that they are helping support a totally different type of facility.
“South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry is a vicious cycle of exploitation, from cradle to grave,” Audrey Delsink, wildlife director of HSI/Africa, explained. “Lion cubs are ripped from their mothers at just a few days old, to be hand-reared by paying volunteers from countries around the world such as the United Kingdom, who are misled into believing the cubs are orphans.”
Things only get worse for the animals as they grow up.
“Once too big and dangerous for these activities, these lions are then killed for their bones which are exported to Asia for traditional medicines,” Delsink said, “or sold to be killed by trophy hunters largely from the United States in ‘canned’ hunts in which hand-reared lions are shot in a fenced area from which they cannot escape.”
South Africa is home to fewer than 3,000 wild lions — but in these farms there are more than double that living in cramped conditions.
In this particular case, charges have been filed against Pienika Farm. The two cubs who couldn’t walk were confiscated and brought to a veterinarian. But the future of the lions at the farm — there are over 100 living there — is uncertain.
“These animals can’t just be released into the wild as they’ve been captive-bred and have no idea how to survive,” Delsink said. “There is sadly no quick fix to rehome more than 100 lions all at once. It’s an extremely sad situation, with these lions the innocent victims.”
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