The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) celebrates a major victory for lions in the country’s first successful case against the cruel, negligent confinement of these wild animals. Captive lions never get to experience the freedom inherent to wild animals. This judgement comes during a time in which the legacy of poor treatment of South African lions persists: characterised by commercial breeding, canned hunting, lion bone trade, cub petting and misleading volunteering opportunities for tourists.
An initial inspection in January 2022 of the farm Steilfontein in Petrus Steyn, Free State housing various feline predators revealed several welfare concerns. NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit Inspector Jason Page, Bloemfontein SPCA Inspectors and Provincial Nature Conservation (DESTEA: Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs) and DFFE (Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment) were involved in the operation.
This inspection revealed concerns that would remain consistent in the subsequent three inspections that followed. These concerns included animals being deprived of potable drinking water, inadequate shelter and the confinement of animals in unhygienic enclosures with an abundance of fresh and calcified faeces and rotting meat, which caused a putrid odour that attracted a hoard of flies that could be seen pestering the animals. Later inspections revealed deteriorated conditions, both in terms of management and welfare standards. Overcrowding was also found, which contravened permitting conditions. A final inspection, joined by the Wildlife Protection Unit’s Mpho Mokoena, revealed two white lionesses that appeared lame in their back legs and showed signs of pain and discomfort.
The evidence acquired during inspections proved that animals were being made to suffer unnecessarily. The owner, Mr Gert Claasen’s disregard for the law led to the NSPCA charging him on seven different counts of contraventions of the Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962 (“the Act”).
Initiating legal proceedings in June 2022, the case concluded on 30 August 2023, where the Court found the accused guilty of contravening the Act, specifically Section 2(1)(1) [neglect]. The Court sentenced the accused to a fine of R4000 or 12 months’ imprisonment, which sentence was wholly suspended for 5 years.
In this precedent-setting outcome, the Court stated that the accused should alert his fellow captive predator breeders, and the NSPCA should alert the public. The NSPCA will continue our fight to protect all animals, and those who disregard their essential freedoms will be held responsible.
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National Inspector Mpho Mokoena
Wildlife Protection Unit
National Council of SPCAs
079 872 3662