Over 100 lions found neglected at South African breeding facility

More than 100 lions and other animals were found neglected in a South African captive-breeding facility last month, according to the Smithsonian Magazine

Inspectors from the National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), which oversees animal welfare in the country, visited Pienika Farm after receiving an anonymous tip about its conditions. Upon arriving, the officers discovered 108 lions, along with several tigers, leopards and caracals, living in unsanitary and overcrowded enclosures. 

Twenty-seven lions were reportedly afflicted with mange, a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that can lead to hair loss, the National Geographic further notes. At least three cubs were suffering from meningoencephalitis — a condition characterized by the inflammation of the brain — and could not walk. One of them was ultimately euthanized by a veterinarian. 

"It’s hard to describe because it leaves you feeling hollow, knowing that you’ve got the king of the jungle in conditions like that," said Douglas Wolhuter, an NSPCA manager who inspected the farm. "It's soul-destroying."

Photo: Humane Society International

Pienika Farm is owned by Jan Steinman, who is a council member of the South African Predator Association (SAPA), an organization that coordinates with provincial and national authorities in the "execution of regulations ensuring a healthy and sustainable predator breeding and hunting industry in South Africa." SAPA announced in a recent press release that it had already conducted an investigation into NSPCA's unsettling discovery and would "immediately institute disciplinary action against Mr. Steinman."

Steinman did not respond to National Geographic's request for comment. 

Between 7,000 and 14,000 lions are held and bred in captivity in South Africa, according to Yale Environment 360. The industry initially began in the 1990s to satisfy the demands of foreign trophy hunters, many of whom were American. By 2008, the market shifted to satisfy customers from Southeast Asia, where lion skeletons are highly valued. 

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Interestingly enough, the South African government did, in fact, attempt to curb the hunting of captive-bred lions once in 2007, but it was later overruled by the country's Supreme Court of Appeals. A group of South African poachers have since distanced themselves from the practice in an effort to protect the nation's wildlife. 

"It’s a complete mess that the government has allowed to develop," said Stewart Dorrington, founder of the Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation, in an interview with the magazine. "It should never have been allowed to get to this point."

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