After an anonymous tipster reached out to a journalist, one of the most shocking cases of animal neglect ever recorded has been discovered in South Africa. Over 100 lions and other animals were found diseased, overcrowded, and near death in a captive-breeding facility in the country’s North West province.

Following the tip, the National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals visited the facility, located at Pianika Farm, and found 27 lions afflicted with a severe case of mange. The animals were being housed in dirty, overcrowded enclosures, and at least three cubs were suffering from a neurological condition called meningoencephalitis — an inflammation of the brain that left them unable to walk.

Douglas Wolhuter, the manager of the NSPCA wildlife protection unit that inspected the farm, said, “It’s hard to describe because it leaves you feeling hollow, knowing that you’ve got the king of the jungle in conditions like that. It’s soul-destroying.”

The farm is owned by Jan Steinman, who is a member of the South African Predator Association (SAPA) — an organization that favors captive breeding and the legitimacy of hunting. Steinman has been charged with violating South Africa’s Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962, which may result in one year in jail for each charge. While the SAPA does have a code of ethical conduct on its site, that code is vague, and it’s unclear whether it’s actually being followed.

According to the 2015 documentary Blood Lions, between 6,000 and 8,000 predators are being held in captive-breeding facilities in South Africa. At these facilities, tourists pay to pet, feed, and take selfies with lions and other animals, and at the end of their lives, they are often shot by trophy hunters. The lions at Pianika Farm were likely being bred for the lion bone trade — an alternative form of traditional medicine in Asia. Iam Michler, the protagonist of Blood Lions, said, “If you’re breeding lions for the lion bone trade, they don’t care what those lions look like. Because at the end of the day, all they’re going to do is end up in a sack, a bag of bones that’s going to Asia.”

The Pianika lions are currently being housed in the same facility, their fate depending on the results of the impending investigation. Having been bred in captivity, they likely wouldn’t survive in the wild, so their future is uncertain.

For more information on lion conservation and unethical lion practices in Africa, watch Matador Network’s original documentary In the Shadow of Lions.

H/T: National Geographic