Extremely neglected lions found at captive breeding facility in South Africa

Horrific conditions of captive bred lions on a captive lion breeding farm in South Africa. Photos provided to Humane Society International by an anonymous source.

Shocking photos have revealed severely neglected lions at the captive lion breeding facility at Pienika farm in South Africa. The lions had very bad skin infections and were living in poor, overcrowded conditions.

Officers from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) entered the Pienika farm and discovered 108 neglected lions, as well as caracals, tigers and leopards living in horrendous conditions.

The NSPCA’s senior inspector Douglas Wolhuter said that two lion cubs appeared to be suffering from a neurological condition and couldn’t walk: “Other issues were small enclosures and inadequate shelter, no provision of water, overcrowding, and filthy and parasitic conditions. 27 of the lions had mange and the caracals were obese and unable to properly groom themselves.”

Lion breeding farms in South Africa are part of the “snuggle scam” as animal welfare organization Humane Society calls it. They provide lion cubs for tourist attractions. Tourist can take selfies with them, not knowing of the suffering the animals endure for them to have a fun holiday picture.

Audrey Delsink, wildlife director of Humane Society says: “South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry is a vicious cycle of exploitation, from cradle to grave. Lion cubs are ripped from their mothers at just a few days old. The cubs are exploited their whole lives, first as props by paying tourists looking for selfie shots whilst petting or bottle-feeding the animals, then later as part of ‘walking with lion’ safaris.”

“Once too big and dangerous for these activities, these lions are then killed for their bones which are exported to Asia for traditional medicines, or sold to be killed by trophy hunters largely from the United States in hunts in which lions are shot in a fenced area from which they cannot escape”, she continues.

With fewer than 3,000 wild lions, South Africa has more lions living in captivity than in the wild. Between 6,000 and 8,000 lions are bred in captivity in some 260 facilities across South Africa, marketed to tourists as lion interaction experiences.

In the wild, lion cubs remain with their mothers for 18 months, and females rest for at least 15-24 months between litters.

Cubs born on breeding farms are taken from their mothers when they are a few days or even hours old to be used as living photo props. The removal of cubs forces the mother into an exhausting and continuous breeding cycle while incarcerated in enclosures, sometimes without adequate food and water.

The eventual fate of the 108 lions is uncertain and will depend on the outcome of the legal process. Even if the NSPCA is able to prove that the neglect was so severe as to justify confiscation of all the lions, there are no reputable facilities in South Africa able to immediately take in such a large number of lions.

Delsink says: “Caring for big cats requires really specialist expertise and facilities, as well as sufficient space. These animals can’t just be released into the wild as they’ve been captive bred and have no idea how to survive, plus if they are as sick as they appear, they’ll need veterinary treatment. 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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