12 min read

Photos Show Lions Starving At Nightmare Breeding Farm

<p><em>Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson</em><span></span></p>

Recent photos paint a startling scene: lions wasting away, with jutting ribs and prominent hip bones.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

The captive lions are among a group of 250 who live at Ingogo Safaris, a breeding farm in South Africa's Limpopo province, owned by a man named Walter Slippers.

The lions are yet more victims of South Africa's canned hunting industry - a business where rich tourists pay absurd amounts of money to "hunt" animals raised by humans, who are then placed in enclosures for the tourists to shoot for easy trophies.

The photos of the captive lions, who appear to be suffering from extreme malnutrition and emaciation, were sent last week to Drew Abrahamson, CEO of the Captured in Africa Foundation.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

"A neighbor on an adjoining property took the photos," Abrahamson told The Dodo, noting that the lions have allegedly been neglected for years.

"Some images surfaced about two years back when he used to have volunteers on his property," Abrahamson said. "There were two lions in the images drinking water; they were also incredibly underweight, so I think it's a case of neglect as a whole. You wouldn't expect captive lions to be [so] thin that their hip bones protrude."

Slippers has allegedly said that the photos are old, but Abrahamson argues otherwise, stating that they are recent - and South Africa's National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) confirmed as such, Traveller 24 reported.

Isabel Wentzel, manager of the NSPCA's Wildlife Protection Unit, told Traveller 24 that, when the NSPCA went to check on the situation after the photos went viral last week, the group found some underweight lions on the premise.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

"Regardless of how old [the photos] are, lions should not look like that," Abrahamson said. "It's clear neglect."

Slippers told Traveller 24 that, because of health problems that left him hospitalized since last November, he's been unable to properly feed his lions and had no means of assistance - leaving the lions to suffer virtually alone and fight amongst themselves to survive.

After the inspection, which found that not all the lions were as skeleton as the ones in the photos, Slippers was let off with an official warning.

Wentzel noted that it would take time for the emaciated lions to recover and put back on healthy pounds; the NSPCA plans to follow up with Slippers after vet records are received for all of the lions, adding that, if these records aren't received, animal cruelty charges may potentially follow.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

Unfortunately, these lions are just a small fraction of the thousands who are killed each year for the canned lion hunting industry, many of whom face similar conditions to those at the breeding facility - or worse.

Masha Kalinina, an international trade policy specialist with Humane Society International, told The Dodo that there are around 200 lion breeders in South Africa, many, if not all, of whom are involved in the canned hunting industry. Between 6,000 and 8,000 lions are currently living in captivity at breeding facilities like Slippers', with less than 20,000 wild African lions left in the world.

The lions' lifespans are often cycles of abuse. As cubs, they're snatched away from their mothers - who are bred constantly - and are often rented out to tourist facilities for use in cub petting or selfie attractions.

As they grow older, they transition into props for "lion walk" attractions, which allow tourists to take walks with the captive-bred adolescent cats through their supposedly natural habitats.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

By the time they mature as fully grown adult lions, if they're not returned to the breeding pool, they've been so aptly groomed to accept humans that they become perfect targets - killed right on the property they've known as home for the entirety of their lives.

"The lion is released for one day of their life, and then lose it to a trophy hunter," Kalinina said, adding that most trophy hunters incorrectly defend the practice of canned hunting and lion breeding as a conservation effort. However, Kalinina noted, that it isn't, since none of the lions can ever return to the wild, as they can't develop the skills necessary to survive in their natural habitat.

"They're purely bred for financial means," she said.

And while the hunt lions are at least kept looking fit so they can bring in more money as "attractive" trophies, the breeding lions are often neglected as they remain behind the scenes where no one can see them.

But as disturbing as the photos of Slippers' lions are, the fact of the matter is that keeping lions in captivity for such a business is perfectly legal in South Africa and fits in with cultural notions of ownership. The lions aren't just living beings - they're Slippers' property.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

"There's this attitude you can do whatever you want with your property," Kalinina said. "All of the animals are owned by whoever owns the property unless it's a national park."

Canned hunting - and trophy hunters by extension - aren't problems limited to South Africa. Many of the canned hunt animals are killed by American tourists traveling in South Africa and other African countries.

And canned hunting in the U.S. is illegal in just nine states, with only partial bans in another 17, Samantha Hagio, director of wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, told The Dodo.

"The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are approximately 1,000 captive hunting facilities around this country, with about half of them in Texas," Hagio said. "In Texas, canned hunting patrons can shoot nearly anything - from an endangered African antelope to a zebra - for the right price."

But there are small signs that the tide is changing. Shortly after the infamous death of Cecil the lion, a wild-born lion who was illegally killed last year after being lured outside a Zimbabwe protected national park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made it even more difficult to import trophies from two particular subspecies of African lions into the country under the Endangered Species Act.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

This new law officially went into effect January 2016. Although the law increases the hoops hunters have to go through in order to bring their prizes back to the U.S., it still does not ban the practice outright, leaving lions like the ones Slippers owns, and many more, still in danger.

"We need to eliminate demand for these lions so there's no financial incentive for them to continued to be bred on these facilities," Kalinina said. One way to do that, she explained, is simply through educating others about the canned hunting industry.

Another is through speaking up. In a Facebook post, Abrahamson provided contact information to South Africa's Limpopo Nature Conservation department, urging people to contact officials and ask them to stop giving permits to captive breeding facilities like Slippers.

Berend Plasil/Drew Abrahamson

"It is time for attention to be brought to the breeders and hunters individually, so they cannot hide behind an industry as a whole," Abrahamson wrote. "It's time they face the music with regards to their exploitation."

To avoid supporting the canned hunting industry, make sure to stay away from any facilities that breed lions or allow you to interact with cubs.

Learn more about how you can help stop canned hunts here.

Watch this video about 33 circus lions who escaped captivity and returned home to Africa: