These lions were underweight with a very weak and low body score. One could see the rib, pelvic and vertebrae bones.
Photo: Bloemfontein SPCA

In what has been described as one of the worst animal cruelty cases reported in the history of South Africa, a total of 30 captive lions had to be euthanised at a lion breeding farm in the Free State.

This comes after the farm owner apparently left the lions suffering for days after wildfires had ravaged the area. 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.

Senior Inspector Reinet Meyer at the Bloemfontein SPCA said what they found at the captive lion breeding farm in the Glen/Brandfort district shocked them to the bone.

“We saw that the lions couldn’t escape the blazing fires, and the inhalation of smothering fumes was evident. The lions didn’t move. 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. Three male Lions, the supposed to be Kings of the Jungle, in one of the camps, couldn’t stand at all. As they attempted to get up, they simply collapsed over and over. One cannot begin to comprehend the pain these lions were in.”

Meyer said after the veterinarian sedated the lions to assess the level of injuries, they were horrified to see the severity of the injuries.

“The paw pads were burned off, with large blisters underneath the paws. Blood oozing from the wounds. The lion’s faces were burnt, and they couldn’t eat because of blisters in their mouths.”

Meyer said the lions had severe smoke inhalation damage.

“The damage was so severe to the lungs that the lions started to drown in their blood. The heat of the fire caused a lion’s eyes to burst. The pain that these lions had to endure. I cannot even try to imagine the pain. We cannot express the helpless and broken feelings we had during this entire time.”

According to the SPCA the owner knew the lions got injured by the fires. She said while the owner knew about the injured lions, he did not administer any medical treatment. Meyer said they were denied access to the farm by the owner had to obtain a warrant to get to the lions.

“We were refused entry by the owner in the Glen district, even though blazing flames destroyed most of the farmland, and especially the enclosures where the lions were kept. This was a clear indication that all was not well on this farm.”

Meyer said they entered the lion camps, and they could only see the destruction left behind by the torturing flames.

“We arrived at the lion enclosures, and our hearts broke, and our souls wept.”

“No electric fence, the structure poles burnt was, and the fence was hanging on a thread, with open gaps and holes. These lions could easily escape, but not even one escaped. They were too broken, too weak.

“We quickly realized 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 was up to standard. The owner no longer made provisions for food for the lions. If cattle or any wildlife animal died in the area the farmworkers would go and collect it for food.”

Meyer said they would also get a few dead chickens from a nearby poultry farm. She said it was clear that there must have been days on end that the lions went without food, and explained that one cow now and then was not going to feed 59 lions and three tigers. Meyer added that the chickens fetched were hardly enough for just one enclosure. These lions were underweight with a very weak and low body score. One could see the rib, pelvic and vertebrae bones.

“I have never been this angry in my 30 years at the Bloemfontein SPCA. The lion is part of our big 5 in South Africa. The lion has huge status and as a country, we are 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. 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 said the camps had lots of faeces and old carcasses.

“No one enters the enclosures to clean and the lions must live in their filth. The camps are too small for the lions. Three lions mutilated and killed their brother within 5 minutes and ate him because they were and are starving. Turning to cannibalism just to stay alive, how heartbreaking. This is one of the worst animal cruelty cases ever to happen in our careers.”

She said a veterinarian assisted them and worked in the pouring rain to attend to the lions.They sedated every lion and assessed the injuries, they had to humanly euthanase 30 lions.

“We carried their carcasses to our vehicles in the rain. We cremated every single lion that we euthanised.”

According to Meyer the owner wasn’t bothered to be present during any time of the inspection of the injuries nor during the euthanasia.

“He was laughing when he was issued a warning, and we didn’t see him again. We issued multiple warnings for lack of water and shelter as we conducted daily inspections at the farm. The owner refuses to comply with any one of our warnings. He refuses to spend any money on these lions.”

Meyer said they had opened a case of animal cruelty against the owners of the lions.

“These animals suffered immensely. Their bones were more important to keep, and therefore they were kept alive at all costs, despite their desperate condition.

“The lions that we humanly euthanized were taken to a cremation site where we supervised every incineration. We were adamant that no one would benefit from any by-product as we were carrying all the costs.

“We spent days helping these animals. We are still at the farm to ensure that those lions left on the farm that did not suffer injuries from the fires, get fed and receive water. It is an ongoing battle.”

Meyer said they spent an enormous amount of money to sedate, treat, euthanise and cremate these animals.

“We had no other choice and could never leave them to suffer. The owner refused and still refuses to pay anything towards the lions and only wanted the carcases of the lions for the bones. We worked into the midnight hours helping these animals. We entered the camps with the lions still inside, determined to help them.”

Published by www.thesouthafrican.com

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