POACHED: José and Liso were poisoned at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo last week. The two were among 33 lions rescued from circuses in South America and relocated to Emoya.
In a heartbreaking turn of events, two rescued lions who had found refuge at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo have been poached. The two males, José and Liso, were among 33 lions rescued from circuses and terrible mistreatment in Colombia and Peru.

It’s believed the poachers broke into the sanctuary last week and poisoned the two big cats, who died as a result. At this stage, the motive for the poaching is unclear.

The co-founders of Emoya, Minunette Heuser and her daughter Savannah, described their devastation and grief as their “heart being torn in two”.

“They (the killers) have broken my heart. They have broken Savannah’s heart. This is not just another poaching incident. We are going to unite, stronger than ever, and bring to justice the perpetrators who murdered our two beloved boys, José and Liso,” Minunette said.

She said both lions had special needs as they were visually impaired and brain damaged. Despite being heartbroken, the formidable pair said these killers “will never break our spirit and the spirit of freedom that ADI (Animal Defenders International) has fought so hard for”.

“We are angry and are not going to take this lying down. We are standing together, every sanctuary, every conservationist, every friend of ADI and Emoya - every one of us - we stand together against illicit wildlife trade,” she said.

The Heusers made it clear they have 24-hour security and armed patrols and have taken immediate and added measures to safeguard their big cats and sanctuary as investigations by police and anti-poaching units continue.

“The terrible slaughter of wildlife in South Africa and the rest of Africa continues to reach desperate proportions,” said an emotional Savannah.

“Poachers are getting bolder and every wildlife refuge, sanctuary and park has now become a target - it is time for us all to stand together,” she said.

Last year, after the 33 lions were moved to South Africa, The Star visited the sanctuary and spent time with the Heusers and some of the rescued big cats, learning about their disabilities and the incredible work Emoya has done in conjunction with ADI, who rescued the lions and facilitated the move to the sanctuary.

In a statement released on Sunday, ADI deemed it “an evil attack”. “This cowardly killing of two sweet, elderly lions, one of whom had suffered brain damage from blows to the head in the circus, must not be left unpunished.

“The safety of the remaining lions is our top priority. ADI and Emoya are reviewing all security measures. Armed guards are in place and a range of additional security measures are being evaluated, including evacuation if necessary,” said ADI president Jan Creamer.