A social media storm expressing public outrage at recent photos of starving lions and video footage of a disastrous wild dog introduction, taken at a farm owned by Walter Slippers of Ingogo Safaris, raises questions regarding the role that South Africa’s Predator Association (SAPA) plays in enforcing animal welfare compliance at captive breeding facilities.

Photos taken by a neighbour last week revealed underweight lions at the facility near Alldays and footage taken by a volunteer on the farm showed four panicked wild dogs trying to escape an attack moments after their release into an enclosure flanked by lions. One of the wild dogs was electrocuted in the fence and another eaten; two escaped and were found days later.

In a statement responding to the allegations of starving lions at the Slippers-owned farm, SAPA said, “If Mr Slippers had been a member of SAPA and owner of a SAPA-accredited facility, we would have taken note of the unfolding tragedy and would have been in a position to act much earlier to prevent this lamentable state of affairs.”

In a recent TV interview with SAPA Chairperson, Professor Pieter Potgieter admitted that some SAPA-registered farms did not comply with the association’s ethical code. In the interview, video footage of a SAPA-accredited facility revealed lions living in cramped conditions and the owners offering illegal hunts.

Furthermore, less than 10% of the 200 lion breeders in South Africa are registered with the association and over 180 facilities remain unregulated with unchecked welfare conditions affecting more than 6 000 lions. As a result, it appears SAPA is falling short on its intention to ensure a healthy and sustainable predator breeding and hunting industry and to enforce that registered facilities adhere to animal welfare legislation.

Because of this and as 90% of predator facilities operate without regulation, it appears that SAPA is not fulfilling its intended role.

“It is clear that there is little or no effective monitoring and inspection of these facilities. The welfare of the animals is often compromised and action is only taken reactively after an incident is reported,” says Dr Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Carnivore Conservation Programme.

In the interview, Potgieter, who is the only paid member of SAPA, admitted that the organisation was unable to monitor or enforce welfare standards at all the predator breeding and hunting farms.

“I don’t regard it (monitoring) as my function,” says Potgieter . “I have much more to do than visit lion farms and see what they are doing.”

South Africa’s captive lion breeding and hunting or ‘canned’ lion industry, has been legally thriving for more than 20 years with approximately 1 000 lions shot each year.

But since the release of the Blood Lions documentary in July last year, global intolerance of the industry is gaining momentum.

Although Slippers has denied the allegations of the malnourished lions, an inspection by the NSPCA confirmed that some of the lions were suffering from malnutrition. NSPCA has instructed the owner to make urgent amendments to the feeding routine or be criminally charged. No comment on the wild dog release could be obtained from Slippers.

The Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa announced that they no longer supported canned hunting and breeding and in January this year the US Government banned the importation of all lion trophies from Africa, unless conservation benefits to lions can be proved from the hunt.