The poisoning of six lions at the Mystic Monkeys & Feathers Wildlife Park north of Pretoria has been portrayed as barbarous, insensitive and heartbreaking.
Four of the creatures were butchered, their heads beheaded and a few paws cut off.
Out of the 6 lions killed, two were white guys, another two darker lions – a male and female around the age of 3 and 4 – two still extremely youthful, at only a half year old.
A manhunt is in progress for the offenders and Limpopo police and private security organization Hi- Risk said it was hot on their trail.
“We are still gathering information, but we have received a lot of leads. There was a lot of evidence found on the scene,” Arthur Crew, of Hi-Risk Unit , said.
Hi-Risk has also offered a R250 000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest of the suspects.
Police have asked that anyone with information about the suspects contact Colonel Alpheus Mokale at 082-565-6524, or the Crime Stop number 08600-10111 or the Crimeline SMS 32211, or the nearest police station.
Mystic Monkeys owner Christa Saayman was still reeling from shock when she spoke to the Pretoria News on Sunday. “I don’t have words to describe how I feel. I am so sad. This was a senseless and heartless act by people who robbed us of six beautiful animals.”
Saayman said she was woken up by the police in the early hours of Saturday – at around 4.30am. They told her there were suspicious people in the vicinity of her park. The police chased the men, but they ran away.
Saayman said they were convinced one of their employees was involved because as the police gave chase, a backpack from one of the suspects fell. The other workers identified the clothes and shoes in the bag as belonging to one of the workers.
“At that stage I did not connect the incident at all with the lions. It was only when the worker in charge of feeding the lions shouted in shock around 7am that we realised what had happened. He discovered the remains of the butchered lions in their cage.”
Saayman said one could not imagine the gruesomeness of the scene. “To see these beautiful animals so mutilated is a pitiful disgrace.”
She said that as it was a crime scene, she was only able to get a closer look at about lunchtime on Saturday. “Their bodies were still in the cages and there was blood on the fence. I had my workers burn the remains of the lions that afternoon.”
While the four adult lions were mutilated, the two younger ones were intact. Saayman said they suspect the culprits were in a hurry.
It emerged that the suspects threw chickens heavily laced with poison over the electric fence. “The police said they have never seen so much poison. I will have to burn the grass of the camp to try to get rid of it as it is still full of poison.”
Saayman said she was convinced it was an inside job. None of the fences were cut and it seemed as if the culprits jumped over the electric fence or gate.
She had no idea why someone would do such a thing.
“I don’t know if it was supposed to be for multi purposes or to use as soup bones or whatever. It is especially heartbreaking as these lions were hand-reared and bottle-fed as cubs.”
Saayman said word of the lion-killing spread like wildfire and they had been inundated with calls from people all over the country sympathising. Animal lovers on social media expressed their shock and dismay and some even called for the death penalty for the culprits.
Lion whisperer Charmaine Joubert, who was like a mother to the lions, said she could not describe how she felt.
She had spent most of her free time playing with the lions and she loved them dearly, she said.
The two white lions were called Aslam and Aiden, while the brown ones were named Jessie and Sussie. The smallest two were yet to be named.
“I was with them last week and we were playing together. They were my children; my life. I am simply shattered,” Joubert said.