The lion had spent his life being neglected in a prison of concrete and steel. He’d never known what it was like to run across plains of grass with others of his kind. And then, for the first time, he was taken to a place where the ground was soft.
On October 21, 2015, animal rescue organization FOUR PAWS International uploaded an amazing video to YouTube. It featured five rescued lions that had been born into captivity and knew nothing else. And three of the animals’ stories began 15 years ago.
Lidia, Lavinia and Petrica were trained as the star attractions of Globus, a state circus in Bucharest, Romania. Petrica was pushed to his limits by his handler, however, and eventually snapped. After the resulting attack, the lions were presumably deemed too volatile for the circus.
Subsequently, in 2002 the group were transferred to a different kind of captivity: Baia Mare Zoo. Unfortunately, the conditions there were arguably no better. As FOUR PAWS International later wrote on its website, the lions exchanged the circus “for a concrete prison.”
Indeed, their cage was nothing more than a small concrete box. And not only were their living quarters inadequate, but there were also soon to be more lions, too. That’s because Lavinia became pregnant with Petrica’s cubs, and she gave birth the following year.
The cubs – who were called Marin and Tarhon Big – shared their parents’ sentence in the Baia Zoo. Fortunately for them, though, the zoo eventually came under scrutiny for its poor conditions. As a result, it was assessed by the authorities, who deemed it inadequate.
FOUR PAWS later wrote that the zoo was “not meeting the criteria set forth by the EU Zoo Directive.” It was closed down as a consequence, which seemed to be a good development for the animals. On the other hand, though, it created a new problem: they had nowhere to go.
If a new place for the lions to live couldn’t be found, then they would face an uncomfortable wait and possibly a premature end. But Loana Dungler, the director of wild animals at FOUR PAWS, revealed that the lions had someone on their side. It turned out that their veterinarian was determined to help.
“The veterinarian who took care of them didn’t want to give up,” Dungler explained in the video. She also revealed what the ultimate fate of the lions would be if no one interceded: they’d be euthanized. But the vet “didn’t accept [that the lions] would be put to sleep,” she added.
And that’s where the non-profit organization FOUR PAWS International entered the picture. The group has worked diligently for over 20 years to save animals from abuse. “We view ourselves as the advocate and champion of those who have no voice of their own,” reads a post on the FOUR PAWS website.
FOUR PAWS decided to take care of the lions, but the group had no room for them on its own site. As a result, it needed to find a location that could comfortably contain the cats until a permanent home could be found. And the organization didn’t disappoint.
In fact, FOUR PAWS refurbished a defunct farm for the lions until they could be transferred to another location. While they stayed there, FOUR PAWS looked after the cats personally, with the additional aid of a local veterinarian.
Finally, in October 2015 FOUR PAWS made preparations to move the lions to their new permanent home. To be more specific, they were going to be taken to the group’s South African big cat sanctuary: LIONSROCK. It would be a long journey, however.
Indeed, LIONSROCK was almost 15,000 miles away and couldn’t be reached in one trip. Instead, the wellbeing of the lions was taken into account, and FOUR PAWS broke the journey up for them. That wasn’t the only precaution taken for the special passengers, either.
The lions were accompanied by an entourage of veterinarians from South Africa, Romania, Germany and the Netherlands. They also picked up another member of jungle royalty on the way: an Italian-born lion called Giovanni, whose history was as tragic as that of his companions.
As a result of his past abuse, Giovanni even lost his tail before FOUR PAWS rescued him. And after an epic journey, the lions finally reached their new home – the aforementioned 3,000-acre big cat paradise, LIONSROCK. But how did the lions react to freedom?
Well, the majority of the animals had never even touched grass, and they were used to a life of captivity and abuse. Their rescue video revealed that initially, the cats were tentative about exploring. However, then one of them soon had a reaction that was simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking.
When the camera zoomed in on the lion’s eyes, there appeared to be a tear running down its face. And judging by the description on the FOUR PAWS website of what type of life their new guests will experience, the future looks bright for the cats now.
“At LIONSROCK, the six big cats will live in large enclosures in a natural habitat,” read the post. “The unique … sanctuary offers a species-appropriate home to over a hundred lions and tigers from poor keeping conditions.” And that’s not all – the organization has big plans, too.
“Most [Romanian] zoos have very bad keeping conditions, with small enclosures, lacking specialized medical care, and proper food,” Dungler wrote. “We are thus planning … a reproduction control program for big cats in Romanian zoos, together with local authorities.” Hopefully, with help from organizations such as FOUR PAWS, one day these vulnerable animals will flourish once again.