A wildlife sanctuary is engaging in what is likely to be a protracted legal battle with the South African government over a rare white lion in the sanctuary’s custody, Fox News reports. The three-year-old white lion, named Mufasa by his keepers, currently resides at the Rustenburg Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
Mufasa was brought to Rustenburg by South African police after he was confiscated as a cub from his private owner, who failed to provide the proper permits. Three years later, South Africa’s North West Department of Rural, Environmental, and Agricultural Development is now trying to regain custody of the lion after resolving the criminal case with the original owner. The agency claims that it will move the lion to a larger sanctuary, but the leader of the Rustenburg Wildlife Centre says that three different officials have told her that Mufasa is going to be auctioned off “to recover legal costs.” The Centre has asked that the lion be moved to a larger sanctuary where he will be cared for until the end of his life, but the Department has refused.
“In the last few weeks we have seen and read extensively about what happens to lions in the industry,” the sanctuary wrote on a fundraising page. “This means there is only one of two options left. Please help us prevent the atrocity of having this beautiful lion condemned to a trophy or a bag of bones.”
These may be the last days of Mufasa life. #SouthAfrica will auction the rare White #Lion to the highest bidder. He'll probably be bought by a canned hunting reserve company where he'll be gunned down #TrophyHunting. He should live free in a preserve. RT to #SaveMufasa pic.twitter.com/TPASGoYt6Y— Daniel Schneider (@BiologistDan) October 18, 2018
Amid growing international outcry over the incident, a lawyer for the Rustenburg Wildlife Centre has circulated an online petition that has garnered over 200,000 signatures. The Centre has also started a fundraising site to help with its impending legal costs.
The custody case is going to a higher court after failing to be resolved in the regional court. “We tried to stay in regional court to prevent the escalation, but the department has now forced our hand, hence the increase in fundraising effort,” the Centre wrote on its fundraising site.
Mufasa has a companion lion, Suraya, who was also rescued as a cub around the same time as Mufasa. The two have grown up together and are inseparable, and both may share the same fate.
White lions are extremely rare. Only 300 exist in the world, with only 13 residing in the wild.
Celebrities around the world have begun to engage in the battle for Mufasa and Suraya’s future. Australian actor Russell Crowe wrote on his Twitter page in October, “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”