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A Bloemfontein animal centre has taken a Hillcrest film company to court, claiming Regulus Vision had tarnished its reputation by falsely implicating it in the canned lion hunting trade via a documentary feature film, Blood Lions.

Blood Lions Film Poster. © Blood Lions
Blood Lions Film Poster ©Blood Lions

Zanchieta Wild Cat Farm launched the urgent court application on Thursday against Regulus Vision before Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Gregory Kruger.

According to court papers, Zanchieta Wild Cat Farm runs a wild animal rehabilitation centre and sanctuary in Bloemfontein and relies on the income from volunteers to run the centre. If the centre did not receive this income, it would be unable to provide a safe haven for the 50 or so wild animals housed there.

The managing member and founder of the centre, Lizette van Schalkwyk, said the number of volunteers at Zanchieta had decreased to such a level that there were no volunteers scheduled for next month, and only one for January.

The farm was informed during a meeting last month with Save Volunteering, one of the agents who place volunteers at sanctuaries, that the reason for the sharp decline could be attributed to Blood Lions, produced as propaganda material against canned hunting and the bone trade.

After Van Schalkwyk did some research, she said she found that three of the lions housed at Zanchieta featured in the documentary. The result was that the agencies did not want to be associated with the centre because of the negative presence and activities portrayed in the film.

The agents were only willing to place the farm back on their list for volunteers when they were satisfied that the farm was not involved in canned hunting, and if any association with the farm was removed from the film.

Van Schalkwyk said the farm had and would continue to suffer severe losses if immediate action was not taken.

She alleged that on 14 May last year Pippa Hankinson and Ian Michler contacted the farm and requested accommodation. Jeana Gous, an employee, helped the couple on their arrival and was not aware of who they were. They requested a guided tour and obtained permission to interview Gous and video the animals.

Gous said they were very interested in the lions and, at the time of the tour, it was the animals’ feeding time. The couple questioned Gous on the farm’s involvement in canned lion hunting, to which Gous categorically said it would never be involved.

Hankinson and Michler claimed their footage was for research and never informed Gous or Van Schalkwyk that they were filming the documentary.

In her court application, Van Schalkwyk has asked that Regulus Vision be ordered to remove all pictures of the lions known as William Wallace, Kalahari and Okavango from its webpage and from any advertisement for the film.

She has also requested a final order directing Regulus Vision to insert a correction in the documentary or any version of the film, exonerating the farm, and that the film company redistribute the film to any theatre houses, social media sites, and TV networks with the necessary correction.

Van Schalkwyk has also asked that Regulus Vision be ordered to publish an apology to Zanchieta Animal Farm on its webpage, Youtube, Noseweek magazine, the Facebook page “Volunteers in Africa Beware” and during future screenings.

She said the farm was home to an extensive pride of wild cats. She said that she started caring for two orphaned caracal cubs seven years ago and fell in love with wild cats.

“I started with a mission to set up a farm as a rehabilitation centre and sanctuary for wild cats. I have in the past purchased wild animals to save them from certain death, and those animals still on the farm cannot be returned to the wild for various reasons,” she said. The farm was open to the public for two reasons: to generate income to house and care for the animals and to educate people.

The big cat population grew from one lioness named Elsa, to seven lions. “The lions are well looked after and the spaces where they are kept comply with standard norms of the industry.”

Van Schalkwyk said the farm had a permit to maintain the animals from the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. She confirmed that the farm also worked with department biodiversity officers, the NSPCA and People for Pets, who visited to ensure that the animals were cared for.

The farm generated its income from overnight accommodation and public access was restricted because the purpose was rehabilitation.

The case has been adjourned to 27 November.

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