Abused lion cub rescued from Paris finds new home in South Africa

King the lion explores his new territory at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve. (Born Free Foundation)
King the lion explores his new territory at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve. (Born Free Foundation)

A lion cub rescued from a Paris apartment has found a new life... in South Africa.

King is a one-year-old lion cub that was being kept in Paris as an exotic pet in "appalling conditions", according to activist organisation Born Free.

"It is staggering that, in 2018, lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe," said Born Free's head of Animal Welfare and Captivity, Dr Chris Draper.

READ: Don't keep exotic pets, urges SPCA following the discovery of an abused monkey

The lion cub had been confined to a small cage and was kicked and beaten on a regular basis, said Born Free.

He was taken to a temporary home at the Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in Belgium, before being flown to the Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari Private Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape. Born Free has committed to providing a lifetime of care.

"I am sure there will be a lot of smiling faces today! So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived," said Born Free's co-founder and trustee Virginia McKenna OBE.

Lion hunting

Shamwari, situated near Port Elizabeth, is a 25 000ha game reserve established in 1992. The first lions were introduced to the reserve in 2000.

"To be able to welcome King to his new home is incredibly heart-warming for us, especially so during our refurbishment process, of not only some of the lodges, but the Born Free Centre itself," said Shamwari Group General Manager Joe Cloete.

READ: NPA welcomes sangoma animal abuse conviction, issues warning

Born Free opposes the keeping of exotic animals as pets, and says that there are "millions" of captive wild animals around the world in a similar situation to the one in which King was found.

But the organisation takes a dim view of captive lion hunting in SA.

According to Born Free, SA is the world's largest exporter of lion bones and skeletons and has between 6 000 and 8 000 lions in captive breeding facilities, compared to an estimate of 2 876 living in the wild.

The organisation hopes to use King's plight as a touchstone to draw attention to the illegal exotic pet industry.

"We are concerned that King's case is the tip of the iceberg and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere," said Draper.

"This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his re-homing to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue."

Most endangered species

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

Lion breeding though, may have a significant economic impact in SA.

In a parliamentary question in April 2018, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said that the lion breeding industry contributed R500m to the economy and hunting alone contributed R110 729 285 in 2016 and R180 967 456 in 2015.

She added that 900 people were employed in the lion breeding industry.

For King, the journey to his ancestral home is thanks to a number of people who donated time and money.

"Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story; he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life. May it be a long and peaceful one," said McKenna.

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