The owners of a big cat breeding farm that supplies lions for tourists to pet and for hunters to shoot are facing animal cruelty charges in South Africa.
Pictures of the farm show lion cubs without fur, suffering from mange.
Inspectors found 108 lions, caracal, tigers, and leopards in filthy and parasitic conditions at a lion farm near Lichtenburg in the North West Province, according to the Conservation Action Trust.
Two lion cubs were unable to walk due to what appears to be a neurological condition, said inspectors.
The national animal protection agency, the NSPCA, has laid charges against the owner of the owner of Pienika farm, Jan Steinman, according to The Times of London.
Senior inspector Douglas Wolhuter told the South Africa Sunday Times, “Twenty-seven of the lions had mange and the caracals were obese and unable to properly groom themselves.”
South Africa has more lions in captivity than in the wild, with breeding farms that critics dub “snuggle scams.”
The Humane Society of South Africa said that the photos provide a shocking insight into the industry, which it says homes 12,000 lions in over 200 farms across the county.
“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,” Audrey Delsink, Wildlife Director of HSI/Africa said in a statement.
“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 the lions become too big and too dangerous, according to Delsink, they are killed for their bones or sold to be killed by tourist trophy hunters.
According to Delsink, during these “canned” hunts—mostly carried out by hunters from the United States—the hand-reared lions are shot in a fenced area.
The captive lion breeding industry is sanctioned by the state, which establishes a quota for the trade of lion bone, which is still used in remedies and ointments in Asia.
Many animal rights organizations complain that the industry is poorly regulated.
The farm where the mangy lions cubs were photographed is credited as a sponsor of an association set up to maintain standards in the industry, the South African Predator Association (SAPA), according to the Times.
The owner is listed as a council member of the same organization.
SAPA says it does not support canned lion hunting but stands for “responsible hunting.”
SAPA said in a statement to the Independent: “SAPA is aware of the complaints. It will now be dealt with in terms of the SAPA code of conduct and disciplinary process. Corrective measures will be enforced once the SAPA council processed all the facts at hand.”
The broader criticisms of the captive lion breeding program are rejected by some in the hunting community with first-hand experience of the process.
Hunter Ron Thompson, who worked in Africa’s national parks for six decades, says he set out to investigate the industry for himself last year.
“I knew nothing about the captive breeding of lions except the personal preference opinions expressed in animal rights propaganda and the media—both of which grossly distort the truth,” he wrote on his blog.
Thompson says he visited over 40 farms across three provinces. “Only two of the farms we visited still removed the cubs from their mothers within days of their birth—a state of affairs that is rapidly being phased out. All the other farmers keep the cubs with their mothers until they are weaned—at 4 to 6 months of age. At weaning, each cub’s DNA is registered and they are individually micro-chipped. This is a new and now automatic procedure.”
He said that his observation of the hunting of captive-bred lions is a “far cry from the picture of ‘canned lion hunting’ that the media likes to portray.”
“The hunting of captive-bred lions in South Africa can only be carried out using the walk-and-stalk method. This involves the hunter following the lion’s spoor, on foot, until he catches up with his quarry,” he wrote.