Cape Town – Photos of what appears to be severely malnourished lions have gone viral, raising the controversial practice of canned lion breeding once again.
The lions, owned by Walter Slippers who runs three operations, a breeding farm, a hunting farm and a coffee shop in Alldays, have sparked outrage across various social media platforms.
Traveller24 contacted Isabel Wentzel, Manager for Wildlife Protection Unit for the NSPCA to confirm if the alleged abused had been reported. Wentzel confirmed the incident in the images, saying underweight lions were found at the breeding & hunting operations of Ingogo Safaris - www.ingogosafaris.co.za – owned by Slippers.
Traveller24 contacted Walter Slippers to confirm why the lions had not been fed properly, with Slippers saying he had been in hospital since 2 November " due to a heart attack as a result of a chemical reaction to medication". He then stayed in rehab until the end of January, saying he had only just been declared fit to farm again.
“While I was in hospital the community helped me, I don’t have brothers or a father who could help me while I was hospital.” Slippers however denied the lions are currently underweight, saying the images are old and must have been taken in March when he was still in rehab.
Wentzel says inspections were carried out at all of Slippers’ properties on Monday, 4 July and that underweight lions were found at the breeding farm.
PICS: NSPCA Wildlife warns Limpopo lion breeding farm about underweight lions - click here for the full gallery
“What we’ve done is we’ve worked with local SPCA in Louis Trichardt, Makhado – who has visited the farm. We’ve been to all the facilities and although not all the lions are underweight, we have issued an official warning.
Wentzel explained that it wasn’t one specific pride but individual lions within various prides. When asked if the underweight lions could be due to pride dynamics, Wentzel agreed but said it was more an indication that the animals “were not getting the correct amount of food per pride”.
“When you look at these lions you can see scars on their faces, meaning it is most likely an issue of fighting for food.”
Wentzel says that Slippers had been forthcoming in accepting responsibility, saying he was in hospital due to the heart attack and that as a result the animals have not been looked after properly.
“It is not a case of feeding them and they will recover straight away, it is going to be a recovery process,” says Wentzel.
The NSPCA has advised Slippers to look at the feeding regime frequency and make sure there is enough food per pride. Added to this Slippers has been asked to provide vet records for all the lions and that once received there would be follow-up inspections to monitor the situation.
Wentzel said another inspection would most likely take place within the week the vet records are received.
“If it really becomes a situation where we don’t receive the report, we will then talk directly to the vets,” Wentzel says. “If they refuse to do what we recommend, it could come down to criminal charges of animal cruelty but we are nowhere near that stage as yet.”
SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Captive bred lions will forever be victims of the hunting industry
And while these conditions are allowed within the parameters of the law in South Africa, it highlights the ethical issues around the canned lion breeding practice.
South African has had over two decades to stem the controversial issue of canned lion hunting but instead the industry has thrived - that is until the controversial documentary Blood Lions put the issue back into the spotlight - setting in motions a few small victories.
The Professional Hunter's Association of South Africa has distanced themselves from canned hunting and breeding completely in November last year. A vote taken at the 38th annual general PHASA meeting held in Polokwane, saw the majority of its choosing not to participate in captive-bred lion hunting until such time as the South African Predators’ Association (SAPA) could prove the conservation value of this practice to both PHASA and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
PHASA members are now prohibited from taking part in canned lion hunts.
SEE: SA's trophy hunting industry disowns half-tame lion hunting
The move was considered a victory on South African soil but is seen as a rather intentionally delayed response. Added to this the US ban has had major impact on the lion hunting and breeding industry locally.
In January this year, the US Government banned the import of all lion trophies from Africa, unless it could be proven that the specific hunt makes a positive contribution to the overall conservation of lions in the wild.
SEE: ShockWildlifeTruths: Hunters Bagged 10 000 Lions in Africa Since 2003
Since the announcement, the local industry is facing total collapse as 70% of the lion hunting clientele hail from the US.
According to Pieter Potgieter from the South African Predator Association (SAPA), a group regulating the canned breeding and hunting industry in SA, the lion hunting industry's cashflow has been affected tremendously.
Because of the ban, "the lion farmers now have no income", Potgieter told Carte Blanche recently, despite still needing to feed their lion stocks on a daily basis... an expensive practice for no remuneration.
"This forces the lion farmers to make all sorts of other plans," Potgieter says, Plans which "include offering cheap lion hunting packages for locals, and the euthanasia of older animals".
Despite the victory for the future of lion hunting in South Africa, the existing captive bred lions are the worst off and will remain victims of the canned breeding industry at large.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- ShockWildlifeTruths: Hunters Bagged 10 000 Lions in Africa Since 2003
- Fenced freedom: The problem of being wild
- Lion culling: A paradox of banning trophy hunting?