The bodies of four decapitated lions were discovered today at a wildlife park in the North where the owner was this week evicted for allowing children to stroke a tiger.
The remains of the adult lions were found buried at the Old Causeway Safari Park in Co Antrim by members of the USPCA animal charity.
It is understood the heads were removed after the lions had been put down humanely and passed to the operator of the site, Norman Elder, for burial.
Yesterday, the USPCA moved against Mr Elder, who set up his Wildlife NI sanctuary on the Benvardin site two years ago, after spotting photographs on a website of a child in a cage with the tiger, which is called Sonya.
“The gruesome unearthing of the mutilated remains of four adult lions on the Benvardin site occupied by Wildlife NI confirms the USPCA’s worst fears,” said a USPCA spokesman.
“The animals, surrendered to the EHS (Environment and Heritage Service) under dangerous wild animal legislation and humanely destroyed, have been subjected to crude decapitation.”
Mr Elder has been licensed to keep wild animals at the site and is contracted to a number of councils to look after animals they have seized.
He has reportedly claimed he removed the lions’ heads to prevent others trying to take them as valuable trophies.
The USPCA said it had been unhappy with standards at the sanctuary for six months but never received a response to its complaints.
Police are investigating reports that one official from the charity was hit by a van and injured during the removal of Mr Elder from the site yesterday.
The USPCA is currently seeking an exclusion order through the courts banning Mr Elder from the Benvardin facility.
Sonya the tiger is now being looked after by the charity.