In 2010 we were staying in Somerset West on South Africa’s Western Cape and found out about a lion sanctuary near Paarl. Paarl is better known as one of the Western Cape wine regions and not so much for its lions, which generally are more than 1000 miles further north in South Africa, and it’s many decades since lion prides roamed wild in this area. So the location was intriguing, but so was the claimed ethos of the place and the fact that they had white lion. Once common in Namibia, white lions (as distinct from albino lions) are extinct in the wild, so this was a chance to see some of the last remaining.
Our visit to Drakenstein Lion Park opened our eyes not so much about lions but about how badly we continue to treat these wonderful large mammals, and we learnt so much through the individual lions stories. Drakenstein is a sanctuary where lions rescued from ill or at best poor treatment with circuses, zoos and private keepers can live out the rest of their lives in peace and security, well fed and cared for until the end. None of them can be released into the wild for a variety of reasons. In most cases they were born in captivity and never learned the skills they would need to survive in the wild. As a result of our visit we adopted two, one female since dead and a male. We have since added three more so that our family is now four – two each male and female. I decided to share them on my blog not to show what wonderful people are my wife and I but because we need to learn what goes on in the dark corners of our world and the degree to which we make animals suffer for our enjoyment. These are their stories.
Brutus was born in about 2002 and arrived at the Sanctuary on 19 Mar 2010. He was confiscated from a French circus where he had been brutally declawed and was so severely beaten that his jaw was broken and never reset. This has resulted in permanent disfigurement which means that his jaw doesn’t work properly and eating is a challenge.
His rescue was made possible by the following organizations: Foundation Assistance Aux Animaux, Natuurhulpcentrum (Belgium) and the Bridget Bardot Foundation.Special thanks must also be given to Animal Travel Services (www.animal-travel.com/) and Havillam Abrahams from Highmoor Freight who once again assisted with the import free of charge.
Simba was born over 20 years ago, and died earlier this year (2015). She was born in captivity on a canned hunting farm. Most lions and all the males born on canned farms are raised to maturity and then placed in a small fenced area (the can) to be shot by wealthy hunters who will pay many thousands of pound/dollars. Simba was not the prettiest of lions and so was chosen as a breeding lion. This meant that as soon as she came into season the first time, her life was a never-ending cycle of reproduction. Once a lion has given birth she will not come into season again until her cubs stop suckling. On canned farms however the cubs are removed as soon as their eyes open, the lion comes into season and the cycle is started all over again. The effect on poor Simba was that she grew to be very aggressive indeed to humans and other lions, and in human terms would probably be described as psychopathic. Once rescued, in Drakenstein right to the end she retained these aggressive characteristics and could not be kept with other lions in the same enclosure.
Edina was born in May 2008, and was rescued from the illegal pet trade in Romania. Lion cubs sold into the pet trade in Romania are normally used as photographic props and lead a terrible existence. They are normally beaten, drugged, badly fed and often declawed and defanged. Often the cubs are kept in car boots. Most of the animals caught in this industry do not live for more than a year. She arrived at the Sanctuary on 25 Feb 2009. Her rescue was made possible by the following sponsors:
SOS Dogs Romania, Hundehilfe, The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust and Animal Travel Services (www.animal-travel.com) who once again assisted with the import free of charge. Her enclosure was sponsored by The Winsome Constance Kindness Trust.
Bai was born in a Cameroon zoo on the 22nd November 2004, and we adopted Bai after Simba died in 2015. Drakenstein were approached by the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund (a UK based animal welfare organization) and asked to mount a rescue operation to relocate her to Paarl. Bai was not well and needed to be evacuated as soon as possible so that she could receive the care and veterinary attention she desperately needed. There was also very little chance that she would have any quality of life if she were eventually returned to the zoo in Cameroon. Because of the generosity of many donors Drakenstein were able to evacuate Bai and bring her to the Park. One of their staff had to fly to Cameroon and accompany her back. British Airways arranged a seat for Bai on the plane, so that she could receive regular bottle feeds during the journey. Bai arrived at the Sanctuary on 17th January 2005. This rescue would not have been possible had it not been for the support of the following sponsors: The Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund, British Airways, Mark Scholtz & Family & Ester vd Merwe.
Leonidas was born in approximately 2012 and arrived at the Sanctuary on 04 Nov 2015 after a long journey from Beirut. He had spent his entire life in solitary confinement in a six meter shipping container. His arrival at the Sanctuary marked the first time that he was able to walk on earth, experience grass under his feet and see others of his kind. It was also the first time he had seen clouds and remains fascinated by them and will watch them slowly moving across the blue Cape sky for hours. Leonidas ended up in the shipping container because of the greed of a Lebanese zoo which sold him for profit and a complete disdain for his welfare.
Leonidas’s rescue was facilitated by Animals Lebanon. Animal Travel Services and DRA Customs Clearing and Forwarding ensured a smooth arrival in South Africa.
The Drakenstein Ethos
This is our lion family and we hope to be able to carry on helping them for many years yet. So many organisations and individuals help to facilitate the work of Drakenstein Lion Rescue, but it is the hard work of all the staff and founder Paul Hart, who’s vision this park was, that makes a day to day difference to animals who until now have lived in pain and fear. Drakenstein Lion Park was established in 1998 in 50 acres of sprawling lion habitat to provide lions in distress with sanctuary, where they could live in safety, free from abuse and persecution, and be treated with the compassion and respect they deserved.
The Park is actively involved in improving the quality of life of lions in captivity, locally as well as internationally, either by offering these animals a lifetime home or working in conjunction with other animal welfare organizations to secure a safe future for individual animals in dire need. The Park is not involved in commercial breeding or trade and offers lifetime care to all of it’s animals. All the animals brought to the Park are captive bred / hand reared and cannot be rehabilitated to the wild. The animals at the Park are assured a chance of living out their natural lives in an enriched and safe environment.
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All images courtesy of Drakenstein Lion Park.