Emaciated cubs, freezer full of carcasses uncovered at North West lion farm

Further scenes of animal abuse were unearthed at Jan Steinman’s lion farm in Lichtenburg, while the local SAPS fails to act on the charges laid against the him by the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) in May this year.

During a follow up inspection on the 23rd July, NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit inspectors found new evidence of serious animal welfare concerns, including a dead lion cub left in a storeroom, two cubs in dire physical condition hidden in a crate and a freezer full of baby lion and tiger carcasses at Pienika farm in the North West province.

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“The picture of this poor dead lion cub tells a story in its own right”, says senior Inspector Douglas Wolhuter. “The pressure sores may be attributed to the fact that he has been lying in one position for a considerable length of time, unable to get up to eat or drink, or even find shelter. It would have taken days for this cub to die, an unnecessary slow and cruel death.”

The two other cubs appeared to be suffering from a similar neurological condition to that  found on Pienika Farm earlier in the year. Both their front and back legs were paralysed, and their heads were bobbing involuntarily. The local veterinarian, Dr Fritz Ras, later euthanised these cubs. 

On the 2nd May 2019, the NSPCA laid charges against Steinman under the Animals Protection Act at the Lichtenburg SAPS , but no progress has been made with the case. Captain Moabi, the Investigating Officer, claims he only received the docket last month and is still in the process of collecting evidence and taking witness statements. After pushing him further on the reasons for this long delay, he said didn’t have all the necessary phone numbers for the witnesses. 

The charges were laid following a complaint and a NSPCA inspection in April, revealing numbers of lions, caracals, tigers, and leopards in small and overcrowded enclosures often with inadequate shelter and a lack of water. The farm was also facing parasitic conditions and 27 lions were found suffering from severe mange.

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During this initial inspection, the NSPCA discovered four lion cubs that were also unable to walk and two were removed for  intensive veterinary treatment by Dr Peter Caldwell, a carnivore specialist. 

Dr Ras hasn’t been able to pinpoint the cause of the paralysis in the last cubs but said “we are obviously seeing a repeat of this disease, which could be a toxin, an infection or even a genetic predisposition as a result of inbreeding. They did not respond to the antibiotics, vitamins and supplements that were administered.”

However, Dr Caldwell believes that the cubs were taken away from their mothers too early and suffered nutritional deficiencies, which compromised their immune system. They subsequently contracted a Meningoencephalitis infection of the brain and spinal cord, severely limiting their ability to move and even use their tongue to drink. “A case of severe neglect”, he said. 

A chest freezer full of dead lion cubs could point to a case of long-term and sustained neglect at Pienika Farm.

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Dr Ras fears that this is not an isolated case and that many other cubs may suffer the same fate on some of the 300+ lion breeding farms around the country, especially considering that at least one third of these facilities breed lions for the lion bone trade

“With the increasing profit-driven commodification of lion products, especially when all the breeder needs is the lion’s skeleton, there is no incentive to keep these animals healthy”, says Linda Park (Director – Voice4Lions). “In an attempt to maximise profit, it is inevitable that even the most basic needs, such as adequate food and shelter as well as medical care, are lacking.”

The condition of the two cubs confiscated by the NSPCA in April has fortunately improved considerably under Dr Caldwell’s specialist care. “Initially, they were unable to stand and were just paddling on the ground to try and move away from their own faecal matter, but they are now able to stand and even take steps. This highlights that there are major pitfalls in the knowledge and care that captive lions are given at this particular breeding facility – and many more like it”, says Wolhuter.

The NSPCA removed several carcasses for post-mortem examination to establish the cause of death and will lay further charges in terms of the Animals Protection Act against Steinman following these latest discoveries.

Conservation Action Trust

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