Cape Town - Greed, mismanagement and a family feud are being blamed for the suffering of three lions which were burnt and euthanised following a fire at Fairy Glen Nature Reserve in Worcester.
The National Council of SPCA said one male and two female lions were left vulnerable to the raging wildfires, last month resulting in burns that inflicted brutal suffering.
Now a full-scale investigation by the NSPCA and Cape Nature has begun and those responsible could face charges.
In an exclusive interview with the Weekend Argus, Pieter de Jager, one of the trustees of De Jager’s Trust that owns Fairy Glen Game Reserve, admitted they were at fault for operating the business without a Performing Animals Protection Permit.
De Jager, his two siblings and their 81-year-old mother became trustees following the death of their father and husband a few years ago.
This week, while the spotlight was on the game reserve for apparent animal abuse and the alleged illegal possession of one male and two female lions, which were 13 years old, De Jager and his partner Kayla Wilkens, who cared for the animals, told their side of the story.
The lions were brought to the farm when they were cubs from the Free State and at one stage even slept in De Jager’s bed when they were cubs before being moved to the lion enclosure when they were older.
The couple say that they have been sabotaged by a family feud. Their home was broken into, a rhino had vanished, and an elephant and lion had died.
They said applications for permits were not completed due to ongoing “mismanagement”, and blamed authorities for not getting involved earlier.
De Jager, who also lost his home in the wildfire, said he grabbed his trustee’s documents during the incident.
“Things went terribly wrong. I brought these lions from Koppies in the Free State when they were cubs and Nature Conservation approved the camp before they issued any permits,” he said.
“The public has to know the full story. They tried to hijack the trust and work me out.
“It is only me, my sister and brother and my 81-year-old mother, who is no longer competent.
“When she became like that, they started to hijack the trust.
“I am not worried about the money, I am worried about the animals and I even lost my house. My salary and Kayla’s salary were stopped.”
De Jager said he and his partner and the animals were the victims. They both agreed to a full investigation.
“I may lay charges with the police for the animal abuse which I have proof of. They broke into my house, fences were broken and there was sabotage.
“More animals died, previously, and I complained to Cape Nature Conservation. They brought a vet.”
Wilkens said she had on numerous occasions tried to get a permit although she was not being part of the trust.
“The allegations are 100% true but the truth is the problem started a couple of years ago in 2020. We closed for Covid-19, a rhino went missing, the one without a horn, and I called stock theft and Cape Nature also came and we were worried about the rhino.
“I was threatened that a permit first needs to be put into place before the police will help us look,” Wilkens said.
“The estate was busy with its unwinding at the time after the father died, which I do not want to comment on.
“Holes were being cut into a fence and a lioness went missing. My house was broken into and I had an attempt on my life and clearly it was like someone wanted us off the farm – like we were being sabotaged.
“There have been unexplained incidents for the past 10 years.
“The animals have suffered due to family feud and the institutions who were supposed to help us.
“Five years ago I asked for help when the rhino went missing.
“That was the only rhino that survived poaching.
“I begged authorities to help me protect her.
“Since other management took over we lost an elephant, a rhino, the lions and protocols should have been instituted a long time ago, and the police dockets should have been opened.
“A lion died a few years ago and the carcass went missing in the same camp.’
“I was the last person to make an application for the permit in 2021 and I paid the exhibition permit but those who need to authorise that within the trust don’t want to sign it.
“Five years ago, if they were rescued, then the animals would have survived or found a different home while the family was fighting. They should prosecute someone, this should never happen again.
“Pieter is not at fault, he has been fighting for the animals. The fault was family feud and mismanagement and the permit battle.”
She said they watched as the fire swept through their home and later the lion camp, helpless and in despair.
“The fire started coming through the lion camp and there is protocol to follow,” she said. “The management protocols were not checked and done.”
In a separate response, other members of the trust said: “The issue will be addressed during a trustees’ meeting. The fire did not originate at Fairy Glen, but it resulted in significant damage to the farm, leading to the destruction of several buildings. There are currently no imminent plans to relocate any lions to Fairy Glen.”
Numerous calls, text messages and an email sent to the two other siblings, requesting a response to De Jager’s claims, went unanswered.
Grace de Lange of the National Council of SPCA, NSPCA said those liable for crimes against the animals and licence disputes could be charged: “The owner can face charges of Animal Cruelty as well as any law that is applicable in terms of not having a permit for the animals.
“There are still other animals on the property. It is not illegal to run a game reserve, however you do need permits for certain animals like lions.”
When asked whether they were aware that the owners claimed they had attempted gaining a permit in the past, she said they could not confirm whether they were approached and that they did not issue permits.
The reserve is also home to an elephant, rhino, donkeys, zonkey, zebra, springbok, gemsbok and blue wildebeest.
The NSPCA said their investigation was at a preliminary stage.
De Lange said they also made sure that the animals’ remains were not used for profit: “After due consideration for the well-being of the animals and the extremity of their injuries, the three lions had to be humanely euthanised, to prevent further suffering.”