By IAIN BURNS
- José and Liso were among 33 lions rescued from mistreatment in South America
- ‘Beloved boys’ were killed after poachers broke into Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary
- The refuge’s defiant manager said: ‘We are not going to take this lying down’
Two lions who endured ‘hell on earth’ in South American circuses before being transported to a wildlife refuge in South Africa have had their heads and paws cut off in possible witchcraft-related killings.
The male lions – named José and Liso – were killed at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern South Africa.
In 2016, 33 lions freed from circuses in Peru and Colombia were transported to live out their days in the wildlife refuge to alleviate their suffering in cages, where they were subjected to beatings and other mistreatment.
The incursion into the sanctuary highlighted how brazen poachers can infiltrate places like Emoya, which said it has 24-hour security and armed patrols and has taken additional measures to protect its property.
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José and Liso were among 33 lions rescued from South America last year and put in a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. Above, one of the lions at the Vaalwater reserve, which is in Limpopo Province
The woman who runs the sanctuary, Minunette Heuser, said the killings have broken her heart. She vowed to ‘unite, stronger than ever’ to ‘bring justice to the perpetrators who murdered our two beloved boys. Above, one of the lions at Emoya
Excited workers at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary wait to greet the arrival of two lorries carrying the 33 lions last year. The animals were mistreated during their years in South American circuses, with some having their claws removed while being kept in small cages
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Lions are often killed in South Africa to create potions for the country’s witchcraft practitioners.
Minunette Heuser, who runs the sanctuary alongside her daughter Savvanah, said the killings have ‘broken my heart’.
She told the Telegraph: ‘We are going to unite, stronger than ever, and bring to justice the perpetrators who murdered our two beloved boys.
‘They have broken Savannah’s heart. But these killers will never break our spirit. We are not going to take this lying down. We are standing together.’
José and Liso had their heads and paws cut off in what resembles a tactic employed by poachers who want to sell to the witchcraft market. Above, some of the 33 lions at play in the sanctuary
She added: ‘This is not just another poaching incident.’
Forensic experts have visited the sanctuary, which is currently closed to visitors and volunteers.
South African police and anti-poaching units are investigating, said Animal Defenders International, a group that worked on the lion transfer from South America.
The group said it is considering the offer of a reward for information leading to conviction, and that the other lions might even be evacuated pending security upgrades.
Members of Animal Defenders International’s lion rescue team transported the lions from South America to South Africa to begin their new lives. The organisation’s president said they had suffered ‘hell on earth’ in the circuses
No details about the possible motive for the lion killings were provided.
But in January, poachers cut through fences at another animal park in South Africa and decapitated and chopped the paws off three male lions, possibly for use in traditional healing rituals.
While lion parts have long been used in some African cultures, conservationists have raised concerns 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 known to have value as trinkets.
One of the former circus lions, above, who’s missing an eye. Both of the slain lions were said by Animal Defenders International to have suffered brain damage from blows sustained during their time in circuses
The transfer of the lions to Emoya had no conservationist value because the animals, which were in poor condition, had been held in captivity and could not live in the wild.
Many had their teeth smashed and claws pulled out while in South America, meaning they could no longer hunt and had to be fed meat in the sanctuary.
ADI president Jan Creamer said last year: ‘These lions have endured hell on earth and now they are heading home to paradise.’
Rapunzel, one of the 33 lions, died of a botulism toxin at Emoya in June 2016, a little over a month after the airlift from South America, according to the sanctuary’s website.
‘Animals are normally resistant to this kind of bacterial toxin but rescue lions that have suffered a lifetime of malnutrition and abuse can sadly remain vulnerable to diseases despite rehabilitation efforts,’ the sanctuary said.
Animal Defenders International said one of the two elderly lions killed last week had suffered brain damage from head blows in the circus.
Source: Daily Mail