It was the overpowering stench and the thick swarm of flies that told Reinet Meyer she had stumbled upon something truly horrific.
Ms Meyer, a senior inspector at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, had been tipped off that lions were being left in tiny cages at the Wag-’n-Bietjie farm, 20 miles outside Bloemfontein in South Africa’s Free State Province.
Knowing that her country’s controversial lion breeding industry supplies the appalling international trade in lion bones meant she was expecting the worst.
But nothing could prepare her for the grotesque and macabre scene she found inside an anonymous-looking farm shed.
The building was being used as a lion slaughterhouse, and a supervisor and eight workers were stripping the skin and flesh from the fresh carcasses of a group of recently killed lions.
Dead lions, some skinned and others waiting to be skinned, littered the blood-stained floor. A pile of innards and skeletons lay elsewhere inside, while discarded internal body parts were piled high in overflowing black plastic bags on a trailer outside.
Photographs taken by investigators showed a squalid scene of gore. Many are too horrific to be shown in a family newspaper.
‘It was shocking,’ Ms Meyer said. ‘We couldn’t believe what was happening. You could smell the blood. The lions got shot in the camp and then were all brought into this one room. The flies were terrible.
‘For me, a lion is a stately animal, a kingly animal. Here he is butchered for people just to make money, it’s absolutely disgusting.’
About 200 yards from the abattoir, two lions were housed in steel transport crates that were too small for them to stand up or turn around in. Ms Meyer said they had been left in the crates without food or water for three days.
She initially thought that one of them was dead because it was not moving. ‘The lion was so depressed that it did not move at all.
‘It was totally disgusting that they were kept like this.
‘A lion is a wild animal, it wants its freedom but now it’s kept in a small cage for three days. It’s absolutely deplorable.’
A total of 54 lions had been killed at the farm in just two days. They were first shot with tranquiliser darts before being shot dead with a .22-calibre rifle. It is understood the bullets were shot through the ear and directly into the brains because overseas buyers will not pay for damaged skulls.
Some of the lions are believed to have been trucked about 250 miles to the farm from a ‘safari park’ near Johannesburg.
Remarkably, the workers at Wag-’n-Bietjie are allowed to kill lions. The site, owned by lion breeder Andre Steyn, is one of a series of licensed lion slaughterhouses in South Africa which supply the huge demand for lion bones from South East Asia.
South Africa allows 800 captive-bred lion skeletons to be exported each year, but campaigners believe many more are illegally slaughtered to feed the disgusting, but lucrative, trade.
Wag-’n-Bietjie, which calls itself an ‘eco-farm’ that puts ‘nature first’, appears to have been issued the relevant permits by the Free State.
Steyn, who is a former council member of the South African Predator Association, a trade organisation for the captive breeding industry, gave Meyer unfettered access to his property.
But along with his foreman Johan van Dyke, he now faces animal welfare charges related to the two lions kept in small cages, and may face further charges related to the way lions were being killed and the squalid condition of the abattoir.
What will happen to the 246 lions found at the farm remains unclear. About 100 were reportedly marked for slaughter, but the farm’s permits have been revoked. Their fate will not be decided until Steyn and Van Dyke’s court case concludes.
Hybrid cats defy nature in lust for profit
Lions and tigers are being crossbred in captivity in a sickening bid to squeeze even greater profits from South Africa’s barbaric bone trade, conservationists claim.
My undercover investigators have learned that bizarre hybrid animals are being created that are even bigger and more imposing than the big cats found naturally in the wild.
This makes them even more valuable when they are slaughtered and their skeletons sold to South East Asia and China to satisfy the huge demand for medicines made from lion and tiger bones.
Remarkably, a three-year-old liger or tigon can be the same size of a nine-year-old lion, thereby producing more bone weight – and greater profits – once slaughtered
Ligers have the greatest financial value: they weigh an average of 71 stone and would stand nearly 12ft tall on their hind legs.
Experts say the abusive breeding process often results in birth defects and the early death of cubs, as well as complications for mothers because they have to give birth to super-sized cubs.
A report four years ago estimated that there were 280 tigers in South Africa at 44 sites. My investigation, however, suggests this is a dramatic underestimate, with around 50 tigers believed to be at just one location.
At another wildlife facility in Free State Province, my investigators made a disturbing discovery. In a fenced enclosure a group of three tigers and five lions were laying down together in the shade. In the same enclosure, another lion and tiger were found together near the perimeter fence.
One of the investigators described the experience as ‘unsettling’, adding: ‘It’s not something you expect to see. We were thinking, “what are they here for, where are they going to go?”’
Staff at the park told my investigators that the lions and tigers were only kept together until they reached breeding age at around two years old. The park last week did not respond when asked whether it was cross-breeding.
At another wildlife park near Johannesburg, one of my team found a large tiger that was pregnant and expecting a litter of cubs.
Without carrying out DNA tests, my investigators were unable to prove cross-breeding at any individual centre but conservationists believe inbreeding in South Africa is ‘rampant’. Meanwhile, tourists are unwittingly fuelling both the bone trade and trophy hunting by paying to either pet lion cubs or for ‘walking with lions’ experiences.
Ukutula game reserve, about 50 miles north-west of Pretoria, charges visitors £46 for a one hour ‘enrichment walk’ with lions. Visitors must sign an agreement that any photographs taken there are for ‘private use only’.
Spokesman Willi Jacobs said: ‘Ukutula conducts these walks to enrich the lives of animals who would otherwise be confined to their enclosures. The revenue generated allows us to support research projects that contribute meaningfully to conservation.’
Why won’t Britain ban import of lion trophies?
Britain has failed to slap an import ban on lion skins – despite public outcry and the demands of campaigners.
There was international outrage four years ago when American dentist Walter Palmer tracked and killed a 13-year-old lion called Cecil with a bow and arrow in Zimbabwe.
Australia, France and the Netherlands have all banned the importation of any lion trophies amid growing public fury, while America banned hunters bringing in trophies from captive-bred lions.
Britain, however, has continued to offer permits to hunters to import lion skins and heads as long as the trophy has been obtained from a ‘sustainable’ hunting operation.
Last December, this newspaper revealed how the number of lion body parts shipped into Britain had soared.
And today I can reveal how this loophole can be exploited by hunters determined to flout the US ban.
One of my undercover investigators recorded Adrian Sailor, a UK representative for Settlers Safaris in South Africa, explaining how a lion skin could be smuggled into the US via Britain by hiding it in a deer skin.
Sailor admitted the issue was ‘so hot, in the press and everything else,’ adding: ‘They want all the stuff done right.’
But to sidestep the US controls, Sailor suggested legally importing the skin via the UK, shooting a red stag in Scotland, then ‘you stick the lion skin inside the bloody stag… you just roll it all up, and just export it as a red stag.
It’s a bit dodgy, but you know. It’s all folded over, rock hard, you can’t open it. It’s all salted and rock hard. I mean a lion’s a big thing, to get inside, but the [only] thing you can’t get in there is a skull.’
When confronted by The Mail on Sunday, Sailor did not deny making the suggestion but stressed that ‘no crime has been committed’ and that ‘everything is done legally’.
He said that he does not deal with anyone in the US, adding: ‘How will a lion fit inside a deer skin? Major size difference.’
Source: MSN News
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