A Pride of emaciated lions began eating each other at a breeding farm in what has been described as the “worst animal cruelty case ever seen”.
Thirty captive lions were left to starve after a fire broke out at their compound in the Free State province of South Africa.
Welfare officers said that the 59 lions and three tigers that were kept at the breeding centre lived in horrific conditions, reported The Times.
The animals had already gone without food for some time before the fire, with officers claiming that one lion was killed and eaten by three of its desperate brothers.
After getting a court order to enter the property, officers found the animals famished, with burnt faces and paws from the blaze, and barely able to stand.
Reinet Meyer, an inspector from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said: “What we found shocked us to the bone. As we entered the lion camps, we could only see the destruction left behind by the torturing flames.
“We arrived at the lion enclosures and our hearts broke and our souls wept.
“We saw that the lions couldn’t escape the blazing fires and the inhalation of smothering fumes were evident. The lions didn’t move.
“They all laid in one spot with their paws turned upwards. Their fragile bodies were burnt, and their faces carried the devastating scars of the flames just days ago.
“Three male lions in one of the camps couldn’t stand at all. As they attempted to get up, they simply collapsed over and over. One cannot begin to comprehend the pain these lions were in.
“We saw that the lions couldn’t escape the blazing fires, and the inhalation of smothering fumes was evident. The lions didn’t move. They all laid in one spot with their paws turned upwards.”
And although vets from the SPCA attempted to treat the animals, 30 lions could not be saved and were euthanised.
“The lions that we humanly euthanised were taken to a cremation site where we supervised every incineration,” the SPCA said.
“We were adamant that no one would benefit from any by-product as we were carrying all the costs,” Meyer added.
It is estimated that around 12,000 lions are kept behind bars in South Africa, where they are legally monetised.
Cubs are often separated from their mums in order to be fed by tourists while adult lions and tigers are used for breeding and “canned hunting” where they are released in an enclosed area to hunt.
Additionally, their bones are sold in a quota system to Asia where they are used in medicines and ornaments.
Complaints of animal cruelty are regularly reported, however, they rarely lead to a conviction.