30 Lions Euthanised After Burning in Free State Fires
30 Lions Euthanised After Burning in Free State Fires. Photos supplied

Thirty captive lions on a private breeding farm in the Free State, South Africa, have had to be euthanised after the farm owner apparently left them suffering for days after wildfires had ravaged the area. Details issued by the Bloemfontein SPCA of the scene they discovered in the Glen/Brandfort district are harrowing and heartbreaking.

Unable to escape the blazing flames, the lions must have endured unimaginable pain and fear. The SPCA said it’s one of the worst things to happen to an animal and that this is one of the worst cases of animal cruelty they have ever witnessed.

The Bloemfontein SPCA was at the forefront during the recent wildfires to assist farmers with relieving horrifically injured animals from any further suffering. For days after the fires, the SPCA searched the area for injured animals.

It was whilst on-site at farms in the Glen district – where grazing and land were destroyed – that the SPCA came across the captive, breeding lion farm. Their suspicions were raised by the owner’s refusal to allow them to enter his land, even though blazing flames had “destroyed most of the farmland… especially the enclosures where the lions were kept”.


In a newsletter on Sunday evening, the SPCA alleged: “The owner knew the lions got injured by the fires. For 5 days they didn’t administer any medical treatment. We had no option, but to obtain a warrant to enter the property.

Our hearts broke and our souls wept

“What we found shocked us to the bone. As we entered the lion camps, we could only see the destruction left behind by the torturing flames. We arrived at the lion enclosures and our hearts broke and our souls wept. We saw that the lions couldn’t escape the blazing fires and the inhalation of smothering fumes were evident. The lions didn’t move. They all laid in one spot with their paws turned upwards. Their fragile bodies were burnt, and their faces carried the devastating scars of the flames just days ago. Three male Lions, supposed to be Kings of the Jungle, in one of the camps, couldn’t stand at all. As they attempted to get up, they simply collapsed over and over. One cannot begin to comprehend the pain these lions were in.”

The camps were in “horrible” condition – no electric fence, structure poles burnt down and the fence hanging on a thread, with open gaps and holes.

“These lions could easily escape, but not even one escaped. They were too broken, too weak,” said the SPCA. “We quickly realized that the owner didn’t care about the lions anymore. He was not willing to invest and financially spent nothing to ensure the welfare of these cats were up to standard.”

lions animal cruelty bloem spca free state fires
Photo: Bloemfontein SPCA

According to the SPCA the owner was no longer spending money on feeding the lions. If any cattle or wildlife died in the area, the farmworkers would collect their bodies as food for the lions. They would also get dead chickens from a nearby poultry farm. The SPCA believes these lions went for days on end without food, and even when the odd cow was brought over, it would not have sufficed for 59 lions and three tigers.

The lions were terribly underweight and weak with a low body score. Their ribs, pelvic and vertebra bones were visible, said the SPCA.

Blomefontein SPCA’s Senior Inspector Reinet Meyer says:

these lions were never free

“I have never been this angry in my 30 years at the Bloemfontein SPCA. The lion is part of our big 5 in South Africa. The lion has huge status and as a country, we are supposed to be proud of our indigenous animals, but we have failed them.

“We cultivated an industry, legal or illegal, that misuses our animals for entertainment like hunting, bone trade, poaching, circus tricks, cub petting or keeping them in zoos or as pets. This must stop.

“We should leave these animals to be free in the wild without any human contact, but we have failed that as a country. These lions were captive, and they burned, these lions were never free.”

Apparently the camps on the breeding farm were filled with faeces and old carcasses. Lions had been left to live in their own filth without anyone entering the enclosures to clean them. On top of that, the camps were allegedly too small for the lions.

Three lions… turned to cannibalism

“Three lions mutilated and killed their brother within five minutes and ate him because they were, and are, starving,” said the SPCA, “turning to cannibalism just to stay alive, how heartbreaking. This is one of the worst animal cruelty cases ever to happen in our careers.”

The Bloemfontein SPCA was assisted by a veterinarian and worked in the pouring rain to attend to the lions. After the vet sedated the lions to assess the level of injuries, the team was horrified to see the severity of the injuries. The newsletter described how “the paw pads were burned off, with large blisters underneath the paws. Blood oozing from the wounds. The lions’ faces were burnt, and they couldn’t eat because of blisters in their mouths. The lions had severe smoke inhalation damage. The damage was so severe to the lungs that the lions started to drown in their blood. The heat of the fire caused a lion’s eyes to burst. The pain that these lions had to endure. I cannot even try to imagine the pain. (See pictures here and here.)

We carried their carcasses to our vehicles in the rain. We cremated every single lion that we euthanised.

“We cannot express the helpless and broken feelings we had during this entire time. After we sedated every lion and assessed the injuries, we had to humanly euthanise 30 lions. We carried their carcasses to our vehicles in the rain. We cremated every single lion that we euthanised.”

And while the SPCA team worked with broken hearts and shattered souls in the pouring rain, the owner “wasn’t bothered to be present during any time of the inspection of the injuries nor during the euthanasia. He was laughing when he was issued a warning and we didn’t see him again. We issued multiple warnings for lack of water and shelter as we conduct daily inspections at the farm. The owner refuses to comply with any one of our warnings. He refuses to spend any money on these lions.”

The SPCA has opened a case of animal cruelty against the owners of the lions. The organisation says these animals suffered immensely but because of the value of their bones (for the lion bone trade) the lions were kept alive at all costs.

“The lions that we humanly euthanised were taken to a cremation site where we supervised every incineration. We were adamant that no one will benefit from any by-product as we were carrying all the costs.

“We spent days helping these animals. We are still at the farm to ensure that those lions left on the farm, that did not suffer injuries from the fires, get fed and receive water. It is an ongoing battle.

“During all of this, we spent an enormous amount of money to sedate, treat, euthanise and cremate these animals. We had no other choice and could never leave them to suffer. The owner refused and still refuses to pay anything towards the lions and only wanted the carcasses of the lions for the bones. We worked into the midnight hours helping these animals. We entered the camps with the lions still inside, determined to help them.

“We ask you, the public, to please support us by donating towards the Bloemfontein SPCA so that we can continue to assist forsaken animals…”

To help the Bloemfontein SPCA to be able to help the animals they assist:

Bank details:

Bank: ABSA
Account name: BFN Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Account number: 927 910 2644 Branch code: 632 005 Savings Account
Reference: Lions

OR

Send an SMS to 42646 with the word Bloemspca. (SMS cost R30)

Visit their website www.bloemfonteinspca.co.za and click on the donate button to do an easy payment towards lions – reference Lions.

The SPCA says: “Thank you to you the supporters that help us when we and an animal needs help! We appreciate all your support.”