In January last year, the department of environmental affairs in the Free State and the national department of forestry, fisheries and environment, together with the SPCA, inspected Steilfontein farm, in Petrus Steyn, where several feline predators were held captive. (Pers-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)
In a first of its kind victory for the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), a lion breeder in the Free State was found guilty of contravening the Animals Protection Act and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment or a fine of R4 000.
The NSPCA “celebrates a major victory for lions in the country’s first successful case against the cruel, negligent confinement of these wild animals”, the animal welfare organisation’s wildlife inspector, Mpho Mokoena, said in a statement.
In January last year, the department of environmental affairs in the Free State and the national department of forestry, fisheries and environment, together with the SPCA, inspected Steilfontein farm, in Petrus Steyn, where several feline predators were held captive.
The initial inspection caused welfare concerns which persisted in three follow-up visits by government authorities and the SPCA.
“Concerns included animals being deprived of potable drinking water, inadequate shelter and the confinement of animals in unhygienic enclosures with an abundance of fresh and calcified faeces and rotting meat, which caused a putrid odour that attracted a hoard of flies that could be seen pestering the animals,” said Mokoena, who led the final inspection.
Additionally, the deplorable circumstances had deteriorated further both in terms of management and welfare standards while the overcrowding of the feline predators contravened permitting conditions.
During the final inspection of the farm, authorities found two white lionesses that appeared lame in their back legs and showed signs of pain and discomfort.
“This judgment comes during a time in which the legacy of poor treatment of South African lions persists: characterised by commercial breeding, canned hunting, lion bone trade, cub petting and misleading volunteering opportunities for tourists,” Mokoena said.
The Mail & Guardian reported in July that there are 519 facilities and about 7 400 lions in captivity compared with wild lion numbers of 3 000 to 3 500.
A ministerial task team tasked with identifying and recommending pathways for captive lion owners to get out of the business was appointed by Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy last December.
The team was established after a recommendation by a high level panel on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos in May 2021.
The panel found that the captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation because of the negative effect on ecotourism, which funds lion conservation. It recommended the closure of the captive breeding sector, including the commercial use of captive lions and their body parts.
In a recent renewed call for registration of interest, captive lion owners were invited to enter into private discussions with the task team. To allow further consultations, Creecy has extended the task team’s mandate by six months to 31 December.
Lion owners can register their interest in voluntary exit here or by sending an email to Kamalasen Chetty on [email protected].