19 January 2007 12:59
An international tug-of-war has erupted over a young lioness rescued from a Romanian zoo and sent to South Africa, only to disappear on a “canned” lion-hunting farm in the Free State.
The feud over Frida, held captive at the infamous Camorhi Game Lodge in Bethlehem, is playing out against a furious row over government attempts to clamp down on canned hunting, which is responsible for the shooting of about 300 captive-bred lions a year.
Frida became a cause célèbre after the owners of a radio station rescued her as a tiny cub from appalling conditions at Craiova Zoo in Bucharest, Romania. Romania’s Radio Total launched a public fund-raising effort to buy her and arranged with a European animal rescue organisation called Vier Pfoten (Four Paws) International to have her sent to Camorhi.
On the eve of Frida’s departure for South Africa in December 2005, Radio Total discovered Camorhi was a captive breeding outfit supplying lions and other predators for canned hunts. It objected to the destination, but was advised by Vier Pfoten to go ahead with the relocation and a suitable sanctuary would be found later.
Radio Total’s Gabi Savu said this week she had had no idea canned hunting existed before she ran the Frida campaign. The industry, which breeds wildlife to be shot in fenced-off areas, has grown in recent years to include between 4 000 and 6 000 captive lions.
“After more than a year of personal research, I concluded that captive breeding and canned hunting in South Africa represent a huge source of money,” she added.
Since Frida arrived in South Africa, Radio Total has vainly tried to move her to the anti-hunting Drakenstein Lion Park near Cape Town. Savu’s bitter tug-of-love over the lioness has been prominently covered by the Romanian media and elsewhere in Europe.
“I strongly want to see Frida again, but I can’t at Camorhi,” said Savu. “Frida will never be safe there.”
Vier Pfoten agreed that Frida would continue to be owned by Radio Total, and Camorhi’s owners, Marius and Maryna Prinsloo, signed a guarantee that she and her offspring would not be shot.
The tune has now changed. In an unexpected twist, Vier Pfoten bought Camorhi last November, paying more than R4,7-million for the 1 100ha farm and 25 lions. It now insists Frida always belonged to Camorhi, renamed Lionsrock.
Meanwhile, the Prinsloos have set up a new operation in the Northern Cape. Ingulule Hunting and Tours advertises “hunting with the rifle, handgun, bow or camera” of big game and plains game. The couple, long associated with canned lion hunting, advertised a white lion hunt for R1,65-million in January 2003.
Andrea Roediger, Vier Pfoten’s international projects assistant, assured the Mail & Guardian this week that Frida would “never be sent to any hunting outfits” and that Vier Pfoten “had no relationship with Ingulule”. The Prinsloos did not respond to the M&G’s questions.
But Radio Total’s Savu was not convinced that Frida and her offspring are safe from canning. She said the Prinsloos still had a base at Camorhi/Lionsrock, and that the lions there had not been sterilised and were still breeding.
“Any guarantees Vier Pfoten would give us about Frida would be pointless, because we don’t trust them,” she said.
Even if Frida is not shot, she may have to be euthanised when draft environmental affairs department regulations become law in March.
The department says the regulations will still allow for canned hunts, but will introduce a national registration and permit system for cat breeders and hunters. Captive-bred predators will have to be released into “reasonably big” hunting camps for at least six months before they can be shot.
“The intention of the regulations has always been to limit breeding activities. With hunting strictly regulated, the number of breeding facilities will decline,” said departmental spokesperson Blessing Manale this week.
With about 250 predator breeding facilities in the country — up to 100 in the Free State alone — concerns have been raised about what will happen to the thousands of captive lions like Frida.
Other aspects of the proposed regulations have been received with catlike fury. A coalition of local and international animal welfare and rights bodies threatened this week to take “robust action, including legal action, to ensure the government’s promise to end canned hunting is fully met”.
Lion breeders have also threatened court action. The deputy chairperson of the South African Predator Breeders’ Association, Thys Mostert, said in December that banning lion hunting would leave the government open to claims for costly infrastructure installed under previous legislation.
Additional research by freelance writer Fransje van Riel