Rescued lion Romeo finds new home

Lion Romeo arrives at Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Free State, after being transferred from Belgium. Picture: supplied

Lion Romeo arrives at Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Free State, after being transferred from Belgium. Picture: supplied

Published May 26, 2024


Cape Town - Global animal welfare organisation Four Paws has successfully transferred a 5-year-old white lion named Romeo to its Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.

Romeo previously belonged to a circus owner who exploited him for performances. He was kept in a tiny cage inside a truck when he was not forced to perform. In August 2023, Romeo was rescued by Belgian wild animal sanctuary Natuurhulpcentrum.

Four Paws said the lion was in bad shape at the time of his rescue, underweight and suffering from infections, but had since improved significantly, thanks to the care of the team at Natuurhulpcentrum.

“He will continue to receive all the specialised care he needs at his forever home, Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary. Romeo will be able to live a lion-worthy life far away from circus performances, in spacious and species-appropriate surroundings.

“It is planned to socialise him with a rescued lioness to provide both lions with a companion.

The team at Natuurhulpcentrum prepared Romeo for his journey to South Africa with crate training, making sure he was comfortable being in the transport crate. The transfer via plane from Brussels airport to Johannesburg went well, and Romeo arrived safely at Lionsrock.

“Romeo is a white lion. His friendliness with humans also indicates that he was hand-raised. Both of these circumstances can lead to long-term health consequences for a lion.

“In the care of Natuurhulpcentrum he has already improved a lot, and we will continue to ensure that he can recover from his past neglect and mistreatment. It is nearly impossible to keep wild animals in circuses in a way that is appropriate to their natural behaviour, ecology, and complex needs.

“Four Paws advocates for an end to animals in circuses, starting with a ban on the exploitation of wild animals for performances,” said Patricia Tiplea, head of Wild Animal Rescue and Advocacy at Four Paws.

The organisation said white big cats were not albinos – their white coat was caused by a rare recessive mutation.

“In captivity, this rare appearance has commercial value. White big cats attract more visitors and are generally sold for higher prices. This means that breeders actively pair animals with this recessive mutation to produce white offspring. This breeding activity results in inbreeding. Inbred animals, including lions, are more likely to develop health problems and suffer long-term health consequences.

“Romeo, like thousands of other big cats, is a victim of the commercial trade of big cats. The keeping and commercial trade of big cats is not properly regulated and enforced in Europe.

“Without proper management and control on trade within the EU and globally, the animals continue to be abused and exploited for entertainment and other commercial purposes, such as circuses, private keeping, unscrupulous zoos, for photo opportunities, for private hire, or in movies. This can be prevented by banning the commercial trade of big cats and their body parts.

“We urge all EU members states to implement the 2023 EU Tiger Guidance to better protect these animals,” said Vanessa Amoroso, head of Wild Animals in Trade at Four Paws.

Four Paws recently transferred a young lion couple from its Felida Big Cat Sanctuary to Lionsrock. Nikola and Vasylyna are a successful example of socialisation and have been inseparable since they arrived at the end of April, exploring their new home together.

Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary: South African sanctuary for rescued big cats

Lionsrock is one of the 13 wild animal sanctuaries and co-operation projects established by Four Paws worldwide. It is home to more than 100 rescued big cats, including lions, tigers and leopards.

They were rescued from private keeping, circuses, zoos, and conflict zones across the globe. The 1 250-hectare sanctuary is also inhabited by other wildlife such as zebra and antelope, and a variety of bird species that have found refuge on the property.

Four Paws has launched an online tool to report the commercial exploitation of big cats. It can be accessed at https://www.four-paws. org/campaigns-topics/campaigns/ruthlesstrade/big-cat-reporting-tool

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