To intervene or not to intervene? What is our moral obligation?

by Louise Joubert

Since yesterday my telephone has been ringing non-stop and I have received numerous emails alerting us to the predicament of a young male lion in the southern region of the Sabi Sands.  It is one the reserves adjoining the Kruger National Park.  Fences have been removed between the park and various private properties and wild animals move freely between the areas.

It appears that a young male lion known as the Styx Male Lion by rangers and guest are trying to establish a new territory after he had been driven from his pride.   About it month ago (so we are told) this young lion was unfortunately badly injured in a territorial fight.  As a direct result of a bad injury to one of his back leg or hip his physical condition started to deteriorate.  In his weakened state this young lion’s misfortune was not yet over and he was soon involved in yet another territorial dispute and sustained further injuries.  One injury saw his eyelid ripped open.  Fortunately his eye (so it seems from photographs) remained in tact.  Whatever the full extent of his injury is, his physical condition continues to deteriorate and many rangers and their guest have found this unfortunate creature’s obvious suffering emotionally distressing.

Sadly life for lions in the wild can be extremely difficult and what may seem cruel to us is a natural occurrence in the wild and many lions faces serious injury and death as a result.  It is part of nature fortunately or unfortunately.

Now let’s for a moment address moral and ethical issues here.  If and when wild animals find themselves in trouble national and provincial authorities and parks managers will in most instances when confronted by animal lovers immediately refer to their respective policies which in most instances are to not interfere with nature, but after receiving the email below this morning asking me what our position would be on the matter I felt compelled to reply. 

I have removed the identification of the individual who emailed me as well as the names of the respective lodges simple as it really does not matter where this tragedy is playing out.  What matters is how we are humans respond to those in need – be it another suffering human being or animal.


Sent: Wednesday, August 08, 2012 4:45 AM

To: [email protected]

Subject: Responsible Intervention

SanWild Wildlife Trust

[email protected]

[email protected]

Dear Ms. Joubert,

I am interested in finding out what the SanWild Wildlife Trust’s standing is on the acceptable handling of wild animals who find themselves in a situation of need following skirmishes, drought, human interaction etc.

In particular a lion in the ………. area has been attacked apparently on 2 different occasions, the first time leaving him with a severe leg injury and the second one with his left eye area ripped up. This started probably a month ago and while the lion was able to get food before the second injury, it was barely enough to sustain him. He has been seen on several occasions and by all accounts, appears to be getting worse and worse.

The general population is divided in that he should be left alone to either succumb or improve. Those that are watching the slow deterioration are at a stage of asking – as humans responsible for the planet earth and who are in a position to help this animal – why are we letting him suffer (a political choice) when we could either euthanize him OR help him recover with food once or twice a week, or at least antibiotics. This may not be following the natural course of life in the wild, however, Lions are also diminishing at an alarming rate through human encroachment, hunting or poaching. In the past 50 years lions have gone from a healthy number of 450,000 down to an alarming low of 20,000. WE are the cause of many of their problems and yet they are expected to amuse the masses who pay large sums of money to view them. Aiding ONE lion at a time of need surely cannot be such a horrendous error. Allowing Game Rangers to use their discretion on a ‘case by case’ basis on any of the ‘Big Five’ surely is something that can be allowed. They are the front line people and have a solid understanding of life and death in the wild. They are not trying to save every lion in the park or divert a kill. But they are the keepers of these animals and therefore should be allowed to make occasional decisions to protect them against unnecessary pain and suffering.

Is it not incumbent upon us to have a rule/law that allows for the occasional intervention in cases such as this? Sitting on the side lines watching the very slow death of ANY animal should be outlawed. He has – so far – managed to avoid the other coalitions that roam the area, but should they come upon him again, they will tear him apart. By euthanizing him – nothing changes – he is still consumed by other predators – the human law makers can go to bed happy.

Please advise if this is a viable request and if you can assist by pointing us in the right direction. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


From: Louise Joubert

Sent: Wednesday, August 08, 2012 8:45 AM


Subject: Re: Responsible Intervention

Dear …………..

In the SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary we do intervene whenever a wild animal needs help. If any animal is found to be beyond help (i.e. an antelope with a broken leg for example) we will put such an animal down without delay. If an animal can be helped we will where possible provide food and veterinary assistance.

However in other reserves like those adjoining the Kruger National Park and the park itself the management have their own rules and on a personal level, although I can understand some of their arguments I unfortunately cannot agree with it. Let me give you an example. Some time ago a very small white rhino calf’s mother was killed by poachers. She remained by her dead mother’s side desperately trying to suckle from her dead body while the CSI team did their work on gathering information. Later in the day an instruction was received from head office to shoot the small calf. No attempt was made to capture it (even though it would have been so easy for them) or help it. It could have been sent to any rehab facility to be hand raised and returned to the wild. In their comments to a media enquiry they mentioned had it been a black rhino calf they would have helped. Now this type of rationale makes no common sense and it in my opinion is downright cruel and shows an attitude to wildlife which is really not acceptable on compassionate and moral grounds. Sometimes I truly doubt that the authorities have too much of that left.

Now let’s look at predator dynamics. Yes indeed predators in the wild do not have such a royal life as we may believe. They fight for territories and they will kill each other for various reasons but this does not mean that we need to look at their situation without any compassion. After all we are the species that fence them into pockets of land and we build our settlements all around them making it almost impossible for young males to move away and find new territories of their own. If they are misfortune enough to move onto land used by humans we persecute and kill them at any possible opportunity that presents itself. In such instances we have no problem interfering with nature!

The argument from parks and large reserves remain that “they do not interfere with the natural rhythm of nature”; and this argument has been used extensively when it comes to helping a wild animal in need. What is really upsetting about this it that when it comes to an animal’s suffering it seems that supposedly intelligent and highly qualified individuals cannot use their logic and the experience gained over the years insofar as predator dynamics is concerned to show compassion to a suffering animal. Their argument is that should they give in to public sentiment it will set a dangerous precedent; again this argument in my opinion is flawed – there is simply never a right reason to do the wrong thing and if ending suffering will set a dangerous precedent I give it my full support. More people need to set the example of extending compassion and understanding to any suffering – be it a human or animal. Compassion can never be wrong!

Saying that their decisions is based on not interfering with nature is quite lame as the 1st day as humans took land from wild animals and started fencing them off in pockets of land we interfered anyway. The moment we created artificial waterholes and built our lodges in their territories we interfered. The moment parks decided on an annual culling or take off (hunting) of certain species as in our opinion there were too many of them, we interfered. So to bring forward this argument when an individual animal is suffering it quite pathetic in my humble opinion and I will never condone suffering of any kind.

From wildlife rescue and rehabilitation perspective indeed help can and should have been extended in my opinion and as an organisation we would be happy to carry the cost.

Sadly it seems from the latest reports I received last night, the lion may be beyond help already and the only help that now remains is to put it to sleep. Please keep in mind I am making this observation on hearsay and 2nd hand reports. I have not seen the lion. We have offered our help insofar as veterinary assistance and supplement feeding is concerned but I guess while people play their political games here this lion’s suffering will continue.

I am frustrated that our hands are unfortunately tied in this matter as I would have loved to help this brave young lion – even if it meant relocating him to a new destination. He has truly gripped the hearts and minds of good people who have witnessed his gradual deterioration and struggle for survival. After all it is not his fault he was born into an uncaring world and for putting human emotions to a wild animal will most probably have me branded as a bunny-hugger and idiot once again, but so what?

Like Marthur Luther King (jnr) said: “Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of
a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way”.

After all a little bit of compassion goes a heck of a long way to making this world a better place for all who share our planet – humans and animals alike!

Kind regards

Louise Joubert

Founder trustee

SanWild Wildlife Trust