Exposed: horror of lion farms

Year-long investigation reveals sickening trade – and ends with a dramatic rescue.

THOUSANDS of lions are being bred to be killed by callous hunters or slaughtered so their bones can be turned into ‘medicines’ and trinkets sold for huge sums in the Far East.

Some of the animals are shot in fenced enclosures by wealthy trophy hunters – including Britons – who pay thousands of pounds to kill them for kicks. Many more are trucked to squalid slaughterhouses and held in appalling conditions until they are shot in the head and butchered.

The repulsive industry, which is rife in South Africa, has been exposed in a year-long investigation by former Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, who last night accused the British Government of being complicit in the trade because of its failure to ban the import of tro­phy skins.

His exposé ended in victory as one lion was rescued from death at the hunters’ hands, and released into the wild in joyous scenes last night.

Lord Ashcroft’s exposé – com­piled by a team of undercover investigators – is published in The Mail on Sunday today and also reveals that:

  • 54 lions were killed at one squalid slaughterhouse in just two days;
  • Lion skins are being smug­gled into the US via Britain, where they are hidden inside deer skins so they are not detected by customs officials;
  • Lions and tigers are being crossbred in captivity in a sick­ening bid to squeeze greater profits from the barbaric bone trade, conservationists claim;
  • A British City worker paid thousands of pounds to shoot a magnificent lion with tran­quiliser darts in an apparent breach of South African law.

That lion, a majestic 11-year-old called Simba, was at the centre of Lord Ashcroft’s probe. The tragic creature was bred in captivity and touted to foreign hunters looking for prime specimens to slaughter.

But thanks to the actions of the undercover investigators, Simba’s life has been saved – and yesterday the noble beast was released into a large enclo­sure at a secret location. Video footage showed him bounding out of a trailer and into a thick area of bush as one of his res­cuers cried out : ‘Yay Simba!’

The rescue came with just hours to spare, as a source reported that a professional hunter was on his way to kill Simba at the very moment he was being rescued.

The lion was initially offered to one of the investigators last year, when he posed as a hunter wanting to bag a wildlife tro­phy. When the ‘hunter’ backed out – having had no intention of killing such a magnificent beast – Simba was instead offered to Miles Wakefield, a British hunter, who paid around £3,000 to pursue him through an enclosed hunting area before shooting it with two powerful tranquiliser darts.

Heartbreaking images of the harrowing incident are pub­lished in today’s Mail on Sun­day, showing a terrified and confused Simba staggering through the bush before finally collapsing in the dust.

Mr Wakefield, 48, this week­end said he believed he was participating in a legal conser­vation operation, and said he was ‘misled’ by the safari bosses who organised the hunt.

Lord Ashcroft’s operators spent the last two months try­ing to extricate the lion from a ranch owned by professional hunter Freddie Scheepers. Mr Scheepers, however, kept drag­ging his feet. It took an offer of $2,000 (£1,500) to speed up the process, and on Thursday a transport company and vet arrived at the ranch on the edge of the Kalahari Desert to humanely drug and move the animal. They were finally given the all-clear to move him at 7am on Friday. Uncon­scious, he was lifted into a trailer and taken to safety. via an 11-hour journey.

Lord Ashcroft’s inves­tigation heaps pres­sure on the Government to close a loophole that allows the import of hunting trophies of captive lions. A source close to Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he would be chairing a meeting on the issue in the next fortnight.