Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

ADI statement on removal of rescued lions from Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary

Posted: 15 November 2018. Updated: 16 November 2018


ADI has won a High Court case to remove from Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, the 27 surviving lions from our Spirit of Freedom rescue in Peru and Colombia. The decision to take this action followed the preventable deaths of five lions, a further lion death, where ADI were denied immediate access to see the animal, and other problems including misappropriation of funds, materials for the lions and associations with trophy hunters and more.

In May 2016, following a two-year operation, ADI flew 33 rescued ex-circus lions to South Africa, to the Emoya Big Cat sanctuary. The rescue was the conclusion of a decade of undercover investigations, reports and campaigning for circus bans, with ADI’s local and national partners across Latin America.

In November 2018, a judge in the High Court of South Africa confirmed the termination of the agreement between ADI and Emoya and ordered the rescued lions to be returned to ADI’s care and custody, and directed Emoya to “comply with its obligations … by co-ordinating and co-operating” in that regard; the court also awarded costs to ADI. Emoya’s claim that the order is conditioned upon Emoya’s approval of the ADI Sanctuary is false.

Emoya’s online declarations not only misrepresent the facts, the dispute, and the judgment, but also defy the court order and Emoya’s assurances to the court during the hearing.

Read the judgement here

ADI’s decision to terminate its agreement with Emoya and remove the lions is based on the following:

  • May 2016: After just 3 weeks at Emoya, all of our rescued lions were struck down with botulism poisoning, having been fed a rotting giraffe carcass from a neighbor’s field. Four were hospitalized and two young lionesses, Kala and Rapunzel, died. Yet in February 2016, ADI had provided Emoya with 3 months’ food money in advance. Emoya did not need to get free food.
  • A year later, following the killing of José and Liso by poachers who managed to gain access to the Emoya sanctuary, investigators discovered that Emoya was using a trophy hunter to kill animals on the sanctuary to feed our lions – completely against ADI’s policies. Our handover care team had also complained repeatedly to Emoya’s owners about the putrid condition of the food, but we never found out what the problem was with the food supply. Neither did we receive explanations.
  • When the lions were fighting for their lives in hospital, ADI sent $5000 to Emoya to pay the veterinarian. He did not receive it. Following that, we paid him directly and continue to do so.
  • We insisted we would pay food suppliers directly. Since May 2016, the cost of the lions’ food has increased by over 400%. We later discovered the two ‘meat suppliers’ were in fact the owner’s lawyer and a boyfriend. We requested competitive quotes, but were told that if there were a change in supplier, Emoya would not take responsibility for feeding the animals. ADI continues to pay, to ensure the lions are fed.
  • In May 2017, we were devastated when we learned that José and Liso were reportedly killed by poachers in what the police referred to as an “inside job”. It felt like someone came and killed our family. Despite promises earlier that year to install security following a series of killings in the region, nothing was done. The poachers’ tracks showed they walked past other lions, straight to dear José and Liso, whose enclosure, unlike the others, was set back into the bush and also unlike the others, had not been electrified. ADI had fully provided funds for all enclosures to be electrified and secure.
  • Christmas Day 2017, lioness Barbie died. She had collapsed in the enclosure with injuries to her neck from apparent fighting. Emoya failed to pre-arrange expert veterinary cover while the regular vet was away for the holiday. Emoya had to call 6 veterinarians before locating an available vet; the attending vet was not a specialist. The lack of driving access into the enclosures means animals cannot be observed from the safety of a vehicle, so Barbie was darted from outside, with a sedative. Already collapsed and having breathing difficulties, this caused her to suffocate to death. The lions’ regular vet reported that her injuries were such that if she had been left for the swelling to go down, she would have survived. Or, if the veterinarian had been equipped to intubate a lion, she would have survived.
  • In 18 months, we suffered five preventable deaths due to management failings – Kala, Rapunzel, José, Liso and Barbie.
  • Following the killing of José and Liso, we were advised by police and anti-poaching experts that the ADI lions were very vulnerable and the killers would return. ADI employed investigators, guards, movement detectors, lights and conducted a review of the situation at Emoya.
  • The findings of the investigation following the killing of José and Liso exposed misappropriation of ADI funds, building materials and labor intended for our enclosures.
  • Some of our lions were still living in their small feeding camps, a year after we had paid for the materials for their main enclosures.
  • Emoya had a trophy hunter sharing one of their houses, with his expert skinners living on the property. The veterinarian advised that dear José and Liso had been expertly skinned for trophies, as opposed to the remains of all the other killed lions in the area, which evidenced killing for traditional medicine.
  • In July 2017, we sent a report of our findings to Emoya’s owners and the board, asking for improvements. No response.
  • ADI offered three potential solutions:
  • - Improve security and management: ADI would fund a secure fortress perimeter around the ADI lions which could be easily patrolled, and Emoya would employ an experienced, professional manager to run the sanctuary.
    - ADI would build a secure fortress around our lions, take over their management, use a separate entrance.
    - ADI would remove at least some of the most vulnerable lions to a safer location, until improvements could be made. (A temporary place for those most exposed was found, but Emoya blocked this). Or ADI would remove all of the lions.
    These solutions were rejected, and no alternatives provided.

    • Despite the deaths and warnings from anti-poaching experts, Emoya refused to let ADI build a proper security fence. We engaged more and more security guards, installed hundreds of movement detectors and security lights. Security currently costs ADI thousands of dollars per month.
    • After months of legal exchanges, we advised Emoya that ADI would be terminating the contract and removing the lions, per the contract terms, due to concerns about the lions’ health or safety.
    • November 2017, Emoya agreed ADI should take the lions, their lawyer wrote:
    • “Emoya has determined that it can no longer provide the necessary upkeep and maintenance of the Rescued Animals’ Enclosures to meet the agreed-upon standards, and is accordingly advising ADI through the office of their attorneys to determine a mutually agreeable remedy, which Emoya shall promptly implement. However, absent such mutual agreement regarding such remedies, Emoya shall promptly coordinate and cooperate with ADI for the Rescued Animals’ return to ADI’s custody and care.”

      • ADI started looking for land to build a sanctuary for the surviving lions.
      • Early 2018, Emoya suddenly reversed its own termination of the contract, newly claiming that the lions were their “property”.
      • The only way to prevent further deaths of lions, was to take legal action.
      • Sweet Joseph died in May 2018. He was partially sighted but a brave warrior, a huge favorite in Peru. Joseph got cold and wet, became ill, and this precipitated the decision that he should be euthanized. ADI’s request to build additional shelter for Joseph was ignored, but Emoya launched a fundraiser for a shelter and thankfully, that was built. However, our request to monitor Joseph when he was sick was unanswered for 11 days then blocked with conditions making it impossible, i.e., attendance of a vet who wasn’t in the country for another 12 days, and we had to agree not to criticize animal care.
      • Over the past two years, Emoya has reported increasing aggression amongst the lions. Our own observations (on visits which have now been blocked), showed the lions to be fearful; their behavior had regressed to how they were when we saw them in the circuses. We have not seen this level of behavior regression in prior rescues.

      {*) We have been reliably advised from more than one source that Emoya has been secretly dosing the lions with cannabis oil, without vet oversight or prescription. Emoya has no evidence to support such action, and the commonly understood problem of species differences, could mean they were making the animals feel worse.

      • Four of the lions did not get full size enclosures until just five months ago, despite ADI funding these over a year earlier.
      • Currently, several lions do not even have main enclosures and are living in small feeding camps, due to the breakdowns in family groups.
      • The lives of more than half of the lions (55%) are currently in flux, having been separated from family members or companions, or being moved to different enclosures in recent months. The breakdown in family groups indicate unsettled and unhappy animals.
      • We have no confidence in the daily oversight of animal health and safety, nor in the management structure.

      Misrepresentation over funding

      • ADI has always funded all feeding and all veterinary care as well as construction of our rescued lions’ enclosures. Since José and Liso’s death, we have funded all security for the ADI lions (having discovered Emoya was not fulfilling its commitment to fund security). Since original promises to pay for veterinary care were not kept, ADI has covered costs for the sake of the health of the lions. We are aware of supporters who donated directly to Emoya believing they were contributing to these costs, but we must advise, again, that ADI has always covered all of these costs, amounting to over $600,000. And we continue to pay these costs.
      • ADI and our supporters covered the cost of the Spirit of Freedom rescue of the lions, and their months in the Peru and Colombia temporary rescue centers, as we dealt with paperwork to get them to Africa. ADI and our donors also covered the cost of their flight – $330,000.
      • Emoya did not contribute to the rescue of these animals, nor to their flights, they did not ‘step forward’ to assist, and they were not involved in the decade of investigations, reports, campaigns and lobbying that led to the laws which ultimately saved these animals. This was a win by local and national animal groups, partnered with ADI.
      • Instead, Emoya has been aggressive in their demands for money for the lions and have misrepresented the huge financial support ADI continue to pay (approaching $7,000 per month in security costs alone). We now believe it was a financial decision to take the lions and is a financial one to try to keep them.

      Safely relocating the animals

      • The lions’ regular veterinarian and ADI’s veterinary team will be with the lions throughout the journey and the lions will be awake. It is a road trip.
      • The lions’ veterinarian has judged them fit to travel and believes it can be done without stress. These lions have traveled well and were calm in ADI’s care. ADI has safely relocated a huge number of big cats across countries and around the world. Emoya’s claim that the majority are elderly is not correct, only five of the 27 lions are over 15 years old, not the majority. The older ones can still have years of life ahead. All the lions will be carefully assessed and monitored.
      • Claims by Emoya that the lions are unfit for travel are not supported by expert opinion
      • This ludicrous claim ignores the fact that Emoya is 4 hours from their veterinary surgery – when sick, the lions travel 8 hours there and back.
      • These lions could have many more years to live – it would be tragic if people believed that the older animals we save, who can enjoy their twilight years in peace, safety and security, should not be given this chance.

      Carefully selected video clips on Facebook or visits, do not show the truth behind the deaths and problems at Emoya.

      We spent a decade working to save these animals. Everyone at ADI remains gravely concerned for the lions’ safety. Just this week, we’ve received after-the-fact reports that yet another lion is ill, found collapsed in his enclosure.

      ADI believes that if we leave our rescued lions at Emoya, they will die before their time.

      We will move the animals as soon as possible and in accordance with the court order.

      © Animal Defenders International 2020