Fight over rare white lion goes global as vet fears he will be sold for canned hunt
● He may not know what all the fuss is about, but Mufasa the white lion has created an international stir.
The three-year-old cat is in the midst of a legal battle that has attracted attention from Hollywood celebrities and 220,000 signatures on a petition by Friday.
The North West department of rural, environment & agricultural development has taken legal action to force a sanctuary to hand Mufasa over. But the sanctuary has refused, fearing the department wants to auction off the lion — possibly for canned hunting.
Mufasa’s plight caught the attention of outspoken Gladiator actor Russell Crowe, who tweeted: “F**k off this is so stupid and bloodthirsty. We are given dominion over animals because of our intelligence (questionable), to me, that dominion has an implicit duty of care. A person who derives pleasure from killing animals is as sick as any murderer #stoptrophyhunting.”
The department denies Mufasa will be sold, claiming it wants to donate the lion to another sanctuary.
Mufasa was taken to the WildForLife rehabilitation sanctuary by department officials after being rescued as a cub in 2015. The plan was that he would live there until the criminal case against the man who had kept him as a pet was finalised, after which the lion would be relocated to a bigger sanctuary.
But things turned ugly once the court matter was concluded when, according to court papers, the department rejected a recommendation by veterinarian Tjitske Schouwstra, who owns WildForLife, that Mufasa be relocated to the SanWild sanctuary in Limpopo.
This worried Schouwstra, who had helped the department with Mufasa’s initial rescue and has previously recommended sanctuaries. She refused to hand the lion back, claiming she had been told by officials that Mufasa would be auctioned. She also slapped the department with a R300,000 bill for Mufasa’s care and accommodation, offering to write off the debt if the department agreed to donate Mufasa to SanWild.
The department refused and has gone to the high court to force Schouwstra to release the lion. WildForLife has opposed the application.
“The whole thing leaves a very bad taste,” WildForLife’s lawyer Carel Zietsman told the Sunday Times.
Schouwstra said Mufasa had developed a bond with a rescued lioness, Soraya, and recommended both lions be donated to SanWild, which has offered to take the pair. But she was surprised when the department granted a permit to relocate Soraya but not Mufasa.
“We were told by three officials that Mufasa would be sold to recover legal costs. They didn’t state for canned hunting specifically — just that he would be auctioned as he had been given to the state by the court.”
The department did not respond to questions this week. However, in its founding affidavit, which was filed on August 23, it asked the court to order WildForLife to hand over the lion and denied Mufasa would be auctioned.
The department says that while WildForLife has
An online petition has drawn 190,000 responses
helped with darting and tranquilising many animals, as well as providing them with temporary care, the sanctuary has never asked for remuneration, other than for medicines or travel costs.
“There exists no agreement that the applicant will financially compensate any facility providing services similar to the ones provided by [Schouwstra] or [WildForLife].”
The department says it wants to donate Mufasa to “a sanctuary of its choice” without naming one or explaining why it rejected Schouwstra’s recommendations.
Zietsman, who launched the online petition, said: “Both Soraya and Mufasa were on the single donation application. Why approve the tawny female and not the white male? Because he’s more valuable. We would write off the fees but they refused … inexplicable if they were going to donate him anyway.”
Zietsman estimates Mufasa would fetch about R100,000 on auction. “He’s worth around $50,000 [about R700,000] to hunters.”
Among those who have signed the petition is British comedian Ricky Gervais, who tweeted: “It’s outrageous — he has a sanctuary waiting for him, offering to take him, and these ‘nature conservation officials’ would rather throw him to trophy hunters.”
Tjitske Schouwstra poses with one of the rescued lion cubs at her sanctuary WildForLife in Rustenburg. Top, Mufasa, left, and best friend Soraya.