A cub’s tale.
I did not name him. Perhaps somewhere in my mind a mechanism jumped into place to try to protect me from what was to come in the next couple of years as my country created a terrible addition to a rapidly growing wildlife industry. How was I supposed to know that he was destined to die in one of the most horrid ways South Africans could dream up to utilize the King of the Beasts.
Our game capture unit arrived on the game farm late that evening. I did not even know that there were lions present on the farm and when I heard the first male lion’s roar in the early hours of the morning just before daybreak I settled more snugly in my sleeping bag and fell asleep with the knowing that it was great to be back in the bush again after spending three weeks in Johannesburg.
An hour later I woke up to a steaming cub of coffee and as I watched the sunrise I thought how beautiful the surroundings seemed on that particular morning. I loved nature and all the wild animals that form such an integral part of this very complex system and I was truly experiencing what I mistakenly identified as happiness.
At the breakfast table I interrupted the conversation to inquire about the lions whose roars I heard in the early hours of the morning. The game farm owner’s wife smiled and said she would go and show me the lions. They seemed very proud of their “lion breeding project”.
A half an hour later I saw him for the first time. He was in a group with 6 other cubs, which were all slightly bigger than him. They were absolutely adorable and I immediately fell in love. He however quietly watched me from a distance while I was trying to avoid the robust attention of the other lion cubs. While they were all moaning in their deep little voices, greeting me with heavy rubbing and the occasional little paw gripping onto my legs, he moved away and tried to hide away in the sleeping pen.
I have always had a soft spot for the runt of the litter, but when I approached him I was greeted not with the enthusiasm of the other cubs, but with a sudden growl and the cute little cub turned into a spitting, snarling bundle of fur. He tried desperately to hide from me and his fear was quite tangible.
The game farmer’s wife told me that he had not quite settled down as he was “new” to the group of lion cubs, but that his behavior would soon be the same as the other cubs. As we moved away from the enclosure his little growls turned into a soft moaning sound that somehow pierced my soul. I think that the combination of the moaning and him running up and down the fence seemed very wrong at that moment. My joy in seeing the cute bundles of fur and this single very aggressive little animal turned into a feeling of concern and unhappiness; a little voice in my soul had just spoken its first words: “This all seems so terribly wrong, what is going on?”
Politely I inquired about where the lion cubs originated from. How could so many little cubs be orphaned all at the same time? Had their mother perhaps died, but then surely they should all be the same size?
Quite openly the game farmer’s wife told me that their mothers were fine and that three of the older cubs’ mothers were expected to produce more litters quite soon. The women made it clear that they were quite displeased with the single cub’s mother as it had only produced one cub. This lioness’s fate remained undecided as she was not a good “breeder”. However as it was her first litter they may consider breeding with her again.
Like a fool I inquired again to find out if the lionesses (or her mate) had tried to kill their cubs, as animals sometimes will do in captivity. Was this the reason why cubs were removed from their mothers? I felt shock and horror when I was told that this was not the case, but that most of the cubs were removed from their mothers within 10 days after birth to allow the lioness to come into estrus again to produce another litter of cubs in a shorter period of time.
After being removed the 10 day old cubs were normally hand raised by the game farmer’s wife and then placed into camps when they were about 8 weeks old.
The smaller cub however was left with his mother for some weeks as she only had one cub and a decision to continue to breed with her was still to be made. However a client who would be arriving on the farm shortly had inquired about a possible lioness hunting trophy and for this purpose the little cub which by now had starting eating meat were removed from his mother and placed with the other cubs.
For the first time in my life I saw the terrible practice of breeding lions commercially for a growing trophy hunting industry.
As we entered the area where the adult lions enclosures were situated I immediately heard her calls! It was the same haunting moans that were made by the little lion cub but it was more penetrating and the sorrow and despair in a single animal mother’s voice made me feel quite ill. Without needing any directions I found her.
She was a pitiful creature moving up and down the enclosure uttering her desperate moans. Her mouth was bleeding from her efforts to bite through the wire mesh which separated her from her cub and had stained the light brown hair of her neck and chest. As she turned around to look at me my heart broke in a million pieces. Her mouth was obviously painful, but it did not seem to bother her. Her amber eyes were filled with hatred as she stared at me through the fence, but at the same time her eyes questioned why?
As I tried to take in her wild beauty my eyes filled with tears and I was thankful that the other people were too interested in some other lions to sense my sorrow and pain. Through her eyes her soul called out to me to help her find her cub that was only removed from her two days ago!
A baby that got to know her love; loved her smell and her caresses and in return gave her all the love that she deserved as first time mother. He had learn’t to trust her in a foreign world of brick, cement and wire fences with funny smelling creatures with loud voices. In the wild his mother would give her life to defend his, but in this strange world she could do nothing to protect his life; it was not to be.
The lioness had been removed from her pride days before giving birth, but this did not bother her too much as in the wild she would move away from her pride to give birth to her cubs and would only return to the pride once her cubs were much stronger. She settled contentedly with her new-born cub and the bond between them grew stronger by the day.
Weeks later she “lost” her baby! How this happened she did not know. She had felt a sting on her rump and even though she desperately tried to fight off the approaching drugged sleep, she could not stay awake. When she opened her eyes the most important thing in her life was removed from her.
All her instincts must have called out for her to give him her protection, but the wire enclosure prevented her from finding him. All her efforts at biting at the wire strains holding her captive were in vain.
The lioness knew her cub was alive because she could her him calling and to my utter despair at that very moment as the wind direction changed and I too could actually hear his faint calls. Tears streamed down my face as I quickly turned and walked away.
Fortunately for me we were kept busy over the next couple of days and even though I avoided talking about or even visiting the lion area the lioness and her cub’s images kept me awake during the loneliest hours of the night. Their haunting lion roars did not please me anymore. They became a desperate call of help to an animal god that did not respond – a call for freedom and justice.
Sadly during this time I realized knew that the poor creatures were being bred for hunting and that the lionesses were turned into trophy hunting producing machines.
I never visited the little lion cub or his mother again and what became of either of them I do not know, but what I do know is that if somehow I could put you in my soul to look into this little cub and his mother’s eyes you will know why we must stop the horrors of captive lion breeding farms.
These poor creatures have to endure the most horrible physical and physiological abuse in captivity simply to have them hunted by COWARDS that believe they are “BRAVE AND ETHICAL HUNTERS”.
Louise Joubert (Founder trustee – SanWild Wildlife Trust)