Lichtenburg, South Africa – Thirty-four lions were crammed into a muddy enclosure meant for three. Rotting chicken carcasses and cattle body parts littered the ground. Faeces piled up in corners. Algae grew in water bowls. Twenty-seven of the lions were so afflicted with mange, a painful skin disease caused by parasitic mites, that they’d lost nearly all their fur. Three cubs lay twitching in the dirt, one draped over the blackened leg of a cow, its hoof visible. Mewling, they struggled—but failed—to drag themselves forward. A fourth cub looked on, motionless.

“Soul destroying.” That’s how Douglas Wolhuter, senior inspector with South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), describes the scene at Pienika Farm, in North West Province, on April 11, 2019. The NSPCA is responsible for enforcing the country’s Animals Protection Act, and Wolhuter was conducting an inspection of Pienika, one of the more than 250 privately owned lion farms in South Africa.

“Ever since I’ve been a young kid, a lion has been known as the king of the jungle,” Wolhuter says. “And then you see it reduced to basically an intensively farmed animal—you’ve removed everything regal and noble about the animal.”

He says the sight left him feeling hollow.

Pienika surrendered two of the four cubs. A third was euthanized, and the fourth remained on the farm, along with the adult lions sick with mange. The NSPCA later laid charges against Jan Steinman, the farm’s owner, and his staff for violating the Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962, which prohibits keeping animals in “dirty or parasitic condition,” allowing them “to become infested with external parasites,” and failing to “procure veterinary or other medical treatment” for an ailing animal.

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