Lions are among the most majestic, beautiful animals on the planet – but that does not make them good pets. Not only are they dangerous beasts, they are built for the wild, rather than domestic captivity. After all, they are natural hunters. For one big cat, a life in captivity almost led to his demise.
King, a one-year-old lion, didn’t have a happy story to tell. In October 2017, he was discovered by the authorities in an apartment in Paris, France. With little room to move and an abusive owner, King was in a sorry state when he was rescued. Just a few months old at the time, it was truly upsetting to find a young cub being so mistreated.
King has the Born Free Foundation to thank for his initial rescue. Founded in 1984, the foundation’s mission is to protect the lives of creatures both roaming free and in enclosures. It fundamentally disagrees with wild animals being kept in captivity.
Once the beleaguered animal was freed from the apartment in Paris, Born Free organized for King to be flown to Natuurhulpcentrum, located in neighboring Belgium. This rescue center’s particular area of expertise is in looking after wild animals that are sick or physically harmed. However, it wasn’t the smoothest of transitions for the young cub.
Having spent his early days in captivity, it came as no surprise that King was uneasy when he arrived at the center. He was vulnerable and felt nervous around people, but nine months’ recuperation saw a complete transformation in the cub. With renewed confidence and physical strength, King was ready for the next step.
While he was recovering at Natuurhulpcentrum, the Born Free Foundation had planned for King to be moved from Belgium to live at its sanctuary, Shamwari Game Reserve, in South Africa. The reserve occupies a staggering 25,000 hectares of land and boasts an enormous array of wildlife. King certainly wouldn’t be in want of any space!
Thankfully, Born Free’s bid to take charge of King was successful, and the big cat was all set to move to Shamwari Game Reserve. Sure enough, July 2018, marked a new beginning for King as he set off for a new life in South Africa. After two days in transit, he arrived at the reserve on July 7.
King was welcomed into South Africa with open arms by the Born Free Foundation. There to meet him were various teams to make sure his transition was as smooth as possible. Glen Vena, the Animal Care Manager at the reserve, said that after all the big cat’s struggles, he hoped King’s life would change dramatically.
In video footage showing King’s arrival, Vena announces that the majestic feline has traveled very well and “is thrilled to be here.” The cub has been transported in a large crate and getting it off the plane requires a big team. Once off the plane, it’s placed onto a large conveyor belt which relays it straight into a lorry.
So far so good. King has made it safely to South Africa and Vena is elated with how well it has gone. But how will King react to his new home? It is impossible to predict how well an animal is going to settle, especially one who has been through significant trauma. After an incredible effort from everyone involved, hopefully it won’t all prove to be in vain?
Once it arrives at the reserve, King’s crate is carried off the lorry by a large team from the Born Free Foundation. It is then placed next to a gap in the fencing around the enclosure and with bated breath, the team lifts the crate’s front panel. From an apartment in Paris to a shelter in Belgium and now a reserve in South Africa, could the cub handle much more change?
Out bounds King. He runs around the enclosure, feeling the ground under his paws and wading through the long grass. He wastes no time in exploring his new surroundings, investigating the trees, sniffing the grass and basically reveling in this brand-new habitat. It seems the team had nothing to worry about after all.
Of course, Vena is delighted with how King’s release has gone. He says, “This morning’s release went very well. He just took off into the main enclosure, which was exciting [and] started to explore the new environment.” He is thoroughly impressed by King’s confidence.
In fact, King is so self-assured in his new environment that he introduces himself to his new neighbors, Jora and Black, right away. These male lions are certainly intrigued by the new arrival. Judging by their roars, King was very welcome to the enclosure, and he even starts imitating them. How’s that for a stamp of approval?
King’s move got off to a flying start and it didn’t stop there. Since the cub arrived at the reserve, he has been growing stronger every day. Unlike many new animals who enter the enclosure, King has taken to his new home with confidence and ease. Physically, he is stronger too and has been eating and drinking without any problems. Manager at Born Free Catherine Gillson says she has been impressed by King’s progress.
No-one is happier for King than Vena, who has been watching his progress. Speaking about King’s bravery, Vena said fondly, “The name says it all. King. A brave lion he is, because he came right up to the fence, starting to look at the neighbors and I think that’s so very brave of him.”
The short time King has spent at the enclosure has seen such an improvement in his wellbeing. For Vena too, it has been an enormous success and he took the opportunity to thank everyone involved in King’s story. However, some animals are not as lucky as King, and have to spend a lifetime in captivity.
Too often, an animal in captivity can be mistreated. The Born Free Foundation is just one body that tackles cruelty experienced by animals in some zoos and circuses. The biggest problem can often be the space that each animal is given, which isn’t always sufficient. Sometimes visitor experience is given precedence over animal welfare – which is simply too high a price to pay.
Born Free is always on the animal’s side and in the past 30 years, the organization has exposed numerous cases of animal cruelty in zoos. It’s important to remember that an animal’s natural instincts and needs do not vanish when they are in captivity. This is when behavioral and physical problems arise and for some animals, this is their life.
King was lucky, however, and has been reaping the benefits of his rescue. With vast plains to explore and neighbors to interact with, the memory of King’s early captivity doubtless seems like a distant dream. if all goes to plan, the big cat will live out his days at Shamwari. It’s certainly a home fit for a King.