Cape Town - We've all known for a long time that the voluntourism industry has a dark side to it and that there are a number of ethical concerns around the practices taking place at predator breeding facilities.
South African's canned trophy hunting industry has been in the spotlight for a while now as the Blood Lions documentary takes global audiences by the neck and shakes up the industry at large.
Here Traveller24 shares a detailed account from a UK volunteer who contacted Blood Lions about her time volunteering at what she describes as one of South Africa's largest breeding farms just outside Kroonstad in the Free State.
WARNING: Graphic images, not for sensitive viewers.
The intern who calls herself Dee, has not disclosed her full name for obvious reasons, highlights how she witnessed a number of questionable practices, including poor upkeep of a sickly cheetah, enclosures that house different species resulting in fatal fights and alleged trade in animal bones.
While we have contacted the NSPCA Wildlife division for advice on what volunteers should do if they find themselves in situations like this, they have yet to respond.
If anything, Dee's account will make those wanting to spend their time and energy doing good, thoroughly research the organisations they plan to get involved with.
The Lion in the Tiger's den...
“During my time at this predator breeding facility near Kroonstad in the Free State, there was a male lion cub, approximately 15-months-old, which was hand-reared and enclosed in a camp with other lions and tigers."
According to Dee this lion cub ended up being killed by tigers.
Together with another vehicle, Dee explains how the volunteers attempted to make a barrier between the tigers and the badly injured lion.
Dee recounts how she could only watch helplessly in the bakkie as a long stand-off ensued between the animals in the pen. It was only when the owner finally arrived that the badly injured animal was able to be rescued and then taken into another vacant enclosure.
"What little medical aid that could be provided, we did, but the severe injuries sustained resulted in the death of the lion within a few hours."
Dee confirmed she also took pictures of the punctured marks on the neck and body of the de-skinned carcass, but they are too gruesome to publish. "I never saw the whole carcass again after the incident," says Dee.
A major cause for concern for Dee was that there was little to no professional medical attention taking place on the farm.
"During my time at the breeding 'facility', I never once saw a vet visit to tend to any of the big cats. Any darting of the big cats was done by the owner's son. To my knowledge he was not a qualified Vet." Dee also claims to have witnessed how the owners allowed "unqualified volunteers to dart the animals" at the facility.
Cheating a cheetah through poor living conditions
Dee says she formed a special attachment to a certain cheetah, while working at the facility.
"When I arrived at the facility, it was clearly evident that very little concern was shown to this animal, judging from the state of his coat and being underweight [was] indicative of diet problems.
Dee questions why the owners nor volunteers before her had recognised the poor state of the animal.
"The owners themselves would surely have seen this, one can give the volunteers the benefit of the doubt for not recognizing this, but the owners appeared to show very little concern or didn’t care enough."
It was then that Dee realised she would need to take it upon herself to care for the animal, as she clearly was concerned about what organisations such as the NSPCA would say if they saw the animal in such a " poor condition".
While nobody at the facility could confirm the animal's age, which Dee estimates to have been between 5 to 9-years-old, she said the cheetah "clearly had osteoporosis in the right hip, a problem with the right hock, heel and tendon, which became severely inflamed" during her stay.
"At the outset, I was dismayed by what they were feeding the cheetah in terms of both quality and type of meat. I got a new feeding routine setup, varying the diet and implementing supplements such as Mobi-Flex into the diet, which I initially funded and bought from Vet Clinic."
Dee said she could see an improvement in the animal over the course of her time there, "reflected by his coat, weight gain and general behavior".
"It's during this period of time, through gaining his trust, I was able to venture into his enclosure and spend time with him. I was happy to just to be a part of his world without ever needing to interact with or seek contact, the very fact I was there and he accepted my presence was sufficient."
"I believe I fulfilled my role of being a guardian to the cheetah, I had a moral obligation to do so and I tried my best to give the cheetah respect, quality care and attention he deserved within the constraints of the farm and its owners."
Tiger cubs skinned and deboned
Another Harrowing incident detailed by Dee involved an enclosure where a group of adult lions were being housed.
According to Dee, three tiger cubs, which she helped to hand-rear had ventured through a 'broken/open' gate into this enclosure with five adult male lions.
"All three cubs died from having their necks broken by the lions. I retrieved the bodies of the three tiger cubs with the help of the foreman at the time, in dangerous circumstances, as we had to ward off the five adult males," explains Dee.
Seeing how the animals were treated after their death was an emotional battle for Dee who described what ensued as " appalling".
"The three dead tiger cubs' bodies were taken to the meat chiller where I identified them and awaited the owner. I was advised by the owner that a vet would come later that afternoon to certify the deaths as 'natural causes'."
But it was the 'Lesson in de-skinning a dead tiger' that got Dee even more upset.
"With one of the tiger's hanging up on a chain by its hind legs, I was present as the owner showed the ground staff personnel how to remove the coat from the paws down and remove from the whole body intact. That afternoon the tiger's were skinned, de-boned and the flesh burnt. The ground staff were getting a step by step introduction and lesson from the owner.
Dee reconciled herself with the fate of the animals and their bones but could accept the response she got when she suggested to the owner that she'd like to email an Australian volunteer who was very fond of one of the tigers.
"The volunteer had been to the facility numerous times and helped hand-rear the tiger and always inquired on his well being."
The owner advised Dee not to tell the Australian volunteer saying, " Just point to another male tiger when she comes here again, she won't know."
It was then that Dee understood the real value of her efforts.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- Five lies you need to stop believing about Lion cub petting industry
- Blood Lions - 6 Harsh truths about the canned hunting industry revealed by Blood Lions