Big cats are not pets

Rescued lion cubs Nala and Simba are safe at the Kloof and Highway SPCA. Supplied

Rescued lion cubs Nala and Simba are safe at the Kloof and Highway SPCA. Supplied

Published May 26, 2024


Durban — “Big cats are not pets” and the discovery of two lion cubs in Westville this week should add weight to support the urgent closure of the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa, says international animal welfare organisation, Four Paws.

This comes after the cubs, apparently named Nala and Simba, were removed from a residence and placed in the care of the Kloof and Highway SPCA on Tuesday.

“Cubs will grow into large sentient predators that pose a threat to people, they require specialised diets, species-appropriate enclosures and enrichment, and as natural an environment as possible,” said Four Paws director Fiona Miles.

The Westville male and female cubs are about six months old, the size of a Staffordshire bull terrier, and in good health, the SPCA confirmed this week.

Kloof and Highway SPCA manager Barbara Patrick said they were doing well, eating and being closely monitored.

“Obviously they’ve been very stressed from being moved and all of that, so we’re keeping them very quiet and having as little contact with them as possible, just going in to feed and clean.”

Patrick said the two, who were fed raw chicken and given plenty of clean water, “absolutely love” each other.

“When we move them to clean, you almost have to take them both at the same time, because they want to be with each other. In the mornings they’re snuggling in the corner on their bed. We’ve given them a big cushion and they’re snuggling in there,” she said.

Charnel Hattingh, from the Fidelity Services Group, told our sister news site IOL that on Tuesday afternoon they sent an armed response vehicle to a home in Grayleigh in Westville.

“A domestic worker alerted her employer to two men she had seen in the garden with what she thought were two dogs. When our officers arrived and entered the property, they discovered two lion cubs in the garden,” she said.

One of the rescued lion cubs explores their new home.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife told the Independent on Saturday a “23-year-old Indian guy” had been arrested, although police and the SPCA did not confirm this.

Spokesperson Musa Mntambo said keeping lions was against the Nature Conservation Ordinance 15 of 1974, and the threatened or protected species regulations in the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.

He said while the cubs were not dangerous yet, many people who domesticated dangerous animals forgot they were predators.

“The problem is once they taste blood, they might be in trouble.”

Mntambo said there were still many unanswered questions about the cubs and they hadn’t yet established the facts.

“Our guys had been told they came from Namibia. At the time the owner was arrested, he told the guys arresting him he bought them from a truck in Pietermaritzburg that was transporting furniture. We don’t know which is true.”

Meanwhile, East Coast Radio interviewed a Westville woman who is apparently the sister of the man who owned the cubs. In the interview, the woman was identified as Sabeehah Paruk. She said since the news broke, several drones had flown over their property as people tried to gather information.

She said her brother received the cubs from a farmer in Botswana who couldn’t look after them himself and they had been in their yard in Westville for the past four weeks.

“The person who was supposed to take them kind of let him (brother) down, so he said, you know what, it’s fine, he’ll look after these cubs for four weeks, and that’s what we were doing, we were looking after them, and they were supposed to go back and be released now, this weekend. So it was not like we were going to keep them forever.

“We do have a licence for these things, they do belong to my brother, but the problem was that they were kept on residential property,” she said.

Police spokesperson Colonel Robert Netshiunda said Westville police had opened a criminal case under the National Environmental Management Act: undertaking a restricted activity involving a threatened/protected species without a permit.

“SAPS were called to an address in Westville for back-up to SPCA and KZN Wildlife Conservation. SPCA had received a call that there were cubs kept on the premises. On arrival they met with some resistance to the property and police assisted in searching the property and the cubs were found.”

Four Paws said the captive lion breeding industry had grown unmonitored and unregulated and there were an estimated 10 000 lions and more than 600 tigers (non-native to South Africa) in captivity for commercial purposes.

“The prevalence of big cats is incredibly high, and animals are easily accessible, and, in addition to the licensed keepers, there are some more unscrupulous ones. The legal trade acts as a conduit for illegal trade and we see animals kept in inappropriate conditions as pets. In this case, the person did not have a permit to keep the animals and the trader perhaps did not check,” Miles said.

Four Paws takes care of 100 rescued big cats at the Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in Bethlehem.

Independent on Saturday