Lions euthanized after owner leaves them starved and burnt in South Africa

Lion looks dead with black burn spots and red paws
Lion with burnt paws and body, photo: SPCA Bloemfontein

Thirty lions had to be euthanized after being injured from wildfires and left to suffer in South Africa. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Bloemfontein said the lions were one of the worst cruelty cases they had ever seen. 

“Fire is one of the worst threats to any farm. Unable to escape the blazing flames is one of the worst things to happen to an animal,” the SPCA said in a Facebook post.

“During the recent wildfires in a large area of the Free State, the Bloemfontein SPCA was at the forefront to assist the farmers with injured animals and end the brutal suffering,” they added.

When they visited a lion breeding farm in Glen district, affected by wildfires, the owner refused to allow the SPCA, who wanted to help the injured animals, to enter. 

After the SPCA obtained a warrant to enter the property, the post said the SPCA team saw lions unable to move. The owner knew the fires had injured the lions but, for five days “didn’t administer any medical treatment”.

“They all laid in one spot with their paws turned upwards. Their fragile bodies were burnt, and their faces carried the devastating scars of the flames just days ago,” the SPCA said. 

Three male lions were unable to stand up. “As they attempted to get up, they simply collapsed over and over. One cannot begin to comprehend the pain these lions were in,” SPCA added.

The SPCA quickly realised that the owner “didn’t care about the lions anymore. He was not willing to invest and financially spent nothing to ensure the welfare of these cats”. On top of that, the lion cages were full of “faeces and old carcasses” and were “too small for the lions.” 

The lions were starving and had begun eating each other. “This is one of the worst animal cruelty cases ever to happen in our careers,” the SPCA said.

Burnt paws
After sedating the animals, a vet with the SPCA team found they were suffering from multiple injuries, including burnt and bleeding paws, blisters on their feet, blisters in their mouths and burns on their faces. 

The lions, the SPCA said, would have been kept alive “at all costs, despite their desperate condition” because of the value of their bones. 

The SPCA said it found a total of 59 lions and three tigers. Of those, 30 lions were euthanized. 

Reinet Meyer, senior inspector with the Bloemfontein SPCA, told The Animal Reader, that the Bloemfontein SPCA team would be visiting the lion breeder again this week and then decide what to do with the surviving animals.

Meyer also said she would be presenting the SPCA allegations to the state prosecutor, who would then decide on the next legal steps in the case against the owner.

Lions in South Africa are bred in captivity for hunting, tourism, entertainment and their bones. 

2018 report from the South African Institute of International Affairs, a public policy think tank, estimated the country had about 8,000 captively bred lions, destined mainly for the hunting and their bones destined for Asia.

The report said lion bones are sold on the black market as tiger bones and used, for example, to make a potion that claims to treat rheumatism and impotence called tiger bone wine. 

Meyer said South Africa was “supposed to be proud of our indigenous animals, but we have failed them”. 

“We cultivated an industry, legal or illegal, that misuses our animals for entertainment like hunting, bone trade, poaching, circus tricks, cub petting or keeping them in zoos or as pets. This must stop,” she said. 

“We should leave these animals to be free in the wild without any human contact, but we have failed that as a country. These lions were captive, and they burned, these lions were never free,” Meyer added.

“We cannot imagine the suffering the animals would have felt while the fires raged around their bodies, and the devastating scenes the SPCA were met with upon their investigations,” Fiona Miles, South Africa director of animal welfare organization Four Paws, said in a press release.

The owner of the lions has not yet been named and could not be contacted for comment. 

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