Fight over rare white lion goes global as vet fears he will be sold for canned hunt

Sunday Times - - News Protest - By ALEX PATRICK

● 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.”

Pic­tures: Sup­plied

Tjitske Schouw­stra poses with one of the res­cued lion cubs at her sanc­tu­ary WildForLif­e in Rusten­burg. Top, Mu­fasa, left, and best friend So­raya.

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