Seven lions have been rescued from a Romanian Joe Exotic-style breeder including three-year-old Simba who made international headlines when he was spotted being made to perform in a music video in poor physical condition.
The seven big cats, three females and four males, are currently being transported across Europe to the Netherlands where they will be given treatment before some of them are transported to South Africa to live out their days.
The rescue was carried out by the global animal welfare organisation Four Paws who said in a statement that the lions were being kept in unsafe conditions as a breeding centre in the commune of Picior de Munte, which is located in the south-central Romanian county of Dambovita, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) outside the capital Bucharest, on 29th September.
They also said that there were nine lions in total, but the owner refused to part with the two parents of the seven other lions.
Ioana Gabriela Dungler, director of the Wild Animals Department at Four Paws, said that some of the lions do not have names and that they were looking forward to including their supporters in helping to choose them.
She said only two of the lions have names, Elsa and Simba. She added that the animals were all born on the property and that they are in good physical condition.
Four Paws said: “The former owner kept and bred lions on his private property legally but was also involved in illegal trade and abuse for entertainment productions. Since the owner refused to part with the parents of the seven rescued lions along with a recently born cub, they had to stay behind.”
The previous owner of the big cats in Romania has not been named.
They added: “The female lion received anti-conception to temporarily stop the breeding on-site, allowing Four Paws to continue negotiations with the owner to end the inappropriate keeping for good and hand over the last lions into species-appropriate care.”
Four Paws added: “They are currently on the way to FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands”, which they said is run by their organisation.
They said that the rescue was complicated by the fact that “all but two of the lions were kept in the same unsafe enclosure.”
Dungler said: “Our team of vets had to put several lions under anaesthesia at the same time in order to get them out.
“The conditions we encountered were challenging even for our experienced rescue team and required maximum security measures. 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.”
Four Paws said that although the owner had previously agreed to permanent anti-conception for the lions that stayed behind, he changed his mind during the mission and Four Paws was not allowed to treat the male lion.
And 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.”
The organisation added that once the big cats arrive at the FELIDA sanctuary in the Netherlands, they will be given “thorough veterinary checks” and will be sterilised, with the long-term goal being to “bring the five youngest lions to its LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa as soon as possible, where they can keep living as one group in spacious surroundings”.
The organisation also talked about young Simba, who they said was born at the breeding facility in Romania and is one of the lions they have rescued.
They said that Simba was in the news in 2020 when he was used in “a music video of a Romanian musician, visibly in poor condition and with multiple injuries on display”. This led to a public outcry resulting in the authorities seizing Simba, but they later returned him to his owner as he had a licence to keep lions.
“Simba could not be reunited with the other lions as his father rejected him and was since kept alone in a tiny enclosure. 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.”
Dungler added: “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. 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.”
Four Paws said: “FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands is one of multiple Four Paws sanctuaries worldwide for rescued wild animals. It functions as a special care facility for physically and mentally traumatised big cats.
“The big cats that recover from the hardships of their past can be transferred to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Animals that need lifelong intensive and special care stay at FELIDA.”
Netflix have recently announced that the hit TV show Joe Exotic will be returning for a second season.
Joe Exotic, aka Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, who claimed he was the most prolific tiger breeder in the US and one of the world’s top experts in caring for big cats, is currently serving a 22-year sentence in prison after being found guilty of murder-for-hire and animal abuse.
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