Last year, Animal Defenders International freed 33 lions from circuses in Peru and Colombia. The lions were transported to South Africa to live out their days in a wildlife refuge. Last week, poachers broke into the sanctuary, killing two of the big cats.
The killing of the male lions named José and Liso occurred at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary that portrayed the lion airlift as a compassionate gesture—alleviating the suffering the animals endured being held in small cages and subjected to beatings and other mistreatment.
Animal Defenders International said one of the two elderly lions killed suffered brain damage from head blows in the circus.
The invasion highlights how brazen poachers can infiltrate places like Emoya, which said it has 24-hour security and armed patrols. Emoya and has taken additional measures to protect its property in northern South Africa.
South African police, forensic experts, and anti-poaching units are investigating said Animal Defenders International. The group said it is considering the offer of a reward for information leading to conviction, and that the other lions might even be relocated pending Emoya’s security upgrades.
The Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary is currently closed to visitors and volunteers.
Lion parts are used in some African cultures; however, conservationists are concerned that poachers are increasingly targeting lions because of demand in some Asian countries. African lion bones are a relatively recent substitute in tonics for the bones of Asian tigers, whose numbers were depleted by poachers. Lion teeth and claws are used as valuable “trinkets.”
Details about the possible motive for the lion killings were not provided.
See also 05.16.2016: 33 Lions and One Tiger