Simba, a young lion whose mangy appearance in a video shocked Romanians, is one of seven lions rescued from a private owner and taken to a new home in the Netherlands.
The animals are now on their way to the FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary, animal welfare organization, Four Paws, which organized the rescue said Thursday.
The group said the owner was involved in illegal trade and abuse of animals for entertainment purposes and refused to part with other lions and a cub and reneged on a promise to sterilize the remaining lions.
The case came after Simba appeared in a video in November 2020. He was visibly in a poor condition and had a number of injuries. Fans however praised Dani Mocanu, a ‘manelist’ or Gypsy pop artist, for his daring. He played with the listless lion during the video.
After public outrage, authorities seized Simba but they later returned him to his owner as he had a license to keep lions. He couldn’t be reunited with the other lions as his father rejected him so was kept alone in a cramped enclosure, the group said.
Romania banned the keeping of big cats and other wild animal species in circuses in 2017, and private keeping is only allowed with a special permit
“Simba is only one sad example of thousands of wild animals that are exploited and abused for commercial trade such as entertainment, in the EU and beyond,” said Ioana Gabriela Dungler, director of the Wild Animals Department at Four Paws.
The unnamed owner kept the animals in the southern village of Picior de Munte, northwest of Bucharest.
The female lion received contraception to temporarily stop the breeding on-site, allowing Four Paws to continue negotiations with the owner to hand over the animals for “appropriate care.”
Six vets from partner organizations were there for the ‘complicated’ rescue mission, a press release said. Five lions were being kept in an unsafe enclosure.
“Our team of vets had to put several lions under anesthesia at the same time in order to get them out,” the statement said calling the conditions “challenging.”
“As long as dangerous wild animals such as big cats are kept in inappropriate cages only secured by a questionable fence, the safety situation remains concerning,” Ms Dungler added.
“We are relieved that we got the seven lions on the road safely but we are not done with their previous owner yet. We will not give up on the lions that stayed behind,” she said.
Four Paws said it planned to bring the five youngest lions to its Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.
As for Simba: “He will now need lifelong special care. Romania has taken important steps by regulating the keeping of big cats but as long as animals are suffering and private persons are allowed to keep and exploit them in inappropriate conditions, there is more work to be done,” she said.