Karen Trendler first realised the horrific welfare implications of South Africa’s captive lion industry 15 years ago when two critically ill lion cubs were dumped on her.
At the time, she was running a wildlife rehabilitation centre, Wildcare which started in the 1980s from her kitchen. It was largely devoted to healing injured small mammals and birds.
“We were wet behind the ears (with lions),” laughs Trendler, gently. “The two cubs had been taken away from their mother. It was the start of the lion petting industry in South Africa.
“They had the most horrific nutritional deficiencies, were suffering from convulsions and had weak bones. I just remember looking at the cubs thinking: ‘This is unbelievable’.”
In the intervening years, Trendler and her team would tend to more sickly lions from captive facilities and would form part of an NGO coalition that petitioned the government to tackle the welfare crisis facing lions in captivity.
“We put together a welfare report with recommendations and costing for sanctuaries,” she recalls.
“We met the Department of Environmental Affairs and raised our concerns about the lion bone trade, which was starting and warning how it could open the floodgates. We offered to euthanise lions that couldn’t go into sanctuaries and that we’d take all the flack for it. The government laughed off our concerns about welfare and the lion bone industry.”
But this week, the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), where Trendler heads the wildlife trade and trafficking portfolio, won a landmark court case against the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the South African Predators Association (SAPA), over controversial lion bone quotas for 2017 and last year, which the NSPCA argued ignored welfare considerations.