Abused Lion From Spain Recovering And Adapting To Safer Existence In South Africa

Abused Lion From Spain Recovering And Adapting To Safer Existence In South Africa

An abused lion from Spain is recovering and adapting to a safer existence in South Africa after being rescued.

Nala the lioness was rescued from an illegal circus breeder in Spain, and is now settling in at the 1 250ha Four Paws Big Cat Sanctuary, Lionsrock, in Bethlehem.

But she is not alone.

Fortuitously, she has Saeed the lion as a neighbour. Four Paws rescued him in July 2017 from a Syrian zoo in Aleppo and the organisation hopes that the two will get on with each other.

"We assume that Saeed, who was born in captivity during the war, lived together with other big cats in Syria. He clearly shows signs that he needs company. With his new neighbour Nala, we believe we have found the perfect companion," said Fiona Miles, country director of Four Paws South Africa.

'Conditions are horrible'

The lions are just two that have been rescued. Twelve other animals were also rescued, as the organisation works to prevent cruelty to big cats.

"We consider that there are no wild lions in Europe. Lions are kept in zoos, circuses and in private ownership," Miles told News24.

She said that some lions kept in zoos were usually kept in good conditions, but sometimes conditions were poor for the big cats.

"Then there is the flipside, where the same amount of lions are kept in zoos, but where the conditions are horrible and where inbreeding occurs – also crossbreeding between lions and tigers occur in these conditions."

Associated Press reported on October 18 that the Safari Zoo Park in Albania had been ordered closed because of the poor treatment of lions and other animals.

The African lion (Panthera leo) is listed on Appendix 1 on Cites (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species), which means it is the on the list of the most endangered among Cites-listed animals and plants, and is threatened with extinction.

Countries in the EU are not obligated to report trade in lions, and the problem of poor treatment of big cats is more acute in Eastern Europe, said Miles.

"Eastern European countries are usually the place where big cats live in bad conditions - and we're not always able to rescue animals. There’s a permanent waiting list of lions and tigers that need rescue.

"However, there's a responsibility on governments to ensure that these animals are kept in good conditions - although this is clearly not the case."

'People too should take responsibility'

She said that Four Paws estimates that there are between 2 000 and 5 000 lions in Europe living in bad conditions.

In its 2018 Cash Before Conservation report, Born Free estimated that in South Africa, about 8 000 lions and other predators were "spread across more than 200 captive breeding facilities, many languishing in poor conditions".

It estimates that there are 2 876 lions living in the wild in South Africa.

Four Paws argues that the public inadvertently contributes to the exploitation of lions through popular activities.

"Not only governments, but people too should take responsibility. Cub petting for example leads to more commercial use of lions: Walking with lions, petting cubs, taking pictures at malls. This creates the commercial use of animals and, being wild animals, there is an expiry date to all these activities," said Miles.

A lion transfer from Europe to South Africa costs a maximum of R16 000, which includes flights, vet checks and permits.

"The most expensive part is to build a big, permanent enclosure for that animal at our Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary," Miles said.

Four Paws hopes that Nala and Saeed, will become friends, but the organisation has a strict no breeding policy.

"It is our duty to offer these animals a peaceful species-appropriate environment for the rest of their lives, while at the same time, breaking the cycle of breeding in captivity," said Hildegard Pirker, head of Animal Welfare at Lionsrock.

Duncan Alfreds, news24

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