Known as the “king of the jungle,” the lion is famed for its natural power and strength. And this reputation somehow makes it even sadder to see such big cats suffer due to human ignorance. Dolo the lion, for example, was so neglected by his captor that the poor creature was reduced to skin and bone. What’s more, he had even lost the one thing that made him look particularly regal – his mane.
Dolo’s story begins in southern Ethiopia in March 2011. At the time, he was being kept as a pet in a small yard that was anything but suitable for such a wild animal. And, apparently, the property owner had wanted to bolster their status by possessing something unusual.
And certainly Dolo was an unusual sight there. After all, keeping a wild animal as a pet is illegal in Ethiopia, so it is unclear how the owner got his hands on Dolo. Furthermore, the majestic animal had likely lived in captivity since he was a cub. But most disturbingly, the creature was being kept in appalling conditions.
Chained to a wooden hut, Dolo could only move three feet in any direction. His shackles also rubbed harshly on his neck and left him with severe skin damage. And the cat had additionally lost his most defining feature: his lion’s mane.
In the wild, lions can command a huge territory of up to 100 square miles. They are also the only species of cats to live in groups, which are known as prides. Therefore, it is easy to imagine just how lonely and frustrated Dolo must have felt in his tiny enclosure.
On top of all this, the beautiful beast was so starving that his skin hung from his bones. In fact, Dolo was said to be so thin that it was possible to see every bone of his ribcage. Shockingly, the animal had been kept in this horrific state for four whole years.
Luckily, however, help was on the way for for Dolo. “It’s illegal in Ethiopia to keep wild animals as pets,” Beth Brooks, Born Free Foundation press officer, told The Dodo in November 2016. “So when the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) were alerted to his plight, they undertook to confiscate him.”
However, the EWCA’s rescue attempt immediately hit a stumbling block. “There were no funds and no facility in Ethiopia to offer him a new home,” Brooks added. So the conservation authority reached out to the Born Free Foundation for help.
Established in 1984, the Born Free Foundation works across the globe to alleviate animal suffering, protect threatened creatures and help wild animals remain in the wild. The charity officially opened its Ethiopia base in 2008 to protect against illegal trafficking and ownership of wild animals.
Working alongside the EWCA, moreover, Born Free was able to free Dolo from his prison and deliver him to temporary sanctuary in Awash National Park. And once there, his demeanor completely changed: in fact, Dolo seemed to come alive.
Furthermore, the neglected big cat could now receive the proper food and medical attention that he desperately needed. It was only when the vets gave him a thorough check-up, however, that they discovered something heartbreaking. Specifically, years of malnutrition had left him with long-lasting eye damage.
“Dolo has retinal atrophy, probably due to a nutritional deficiency when [he was] young, and this has left him with very limited vision,” Laura Gosset, programs officer for Born Free, explained to The Dodo. “He would therefore take longer to get used to his new environment; a space far bigger and more complex and stimulating than anything he has experienced before.”
Painfully, this news destroyed any hopes that Dolo would one day be able to return to the wild. Indeed, his limited vision, coupled with the fact that he’d been raised in captivity, meant that he would be better off at Born Free’s Ensessakotteh rescue center, located just outside Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. So, in March 2011 the lion was transported to the newly opened sanctuary.
However, the process of getting him to Ensessakotteh wasn’t easy. Indeed, the lion had to be tranquilized before he was put into a wooden container and hauled onto the back of a van for transportation. Only then could he begin the long journey to his forever home.
“Dolo has suffered so much in his short life,” Virginia McKenna OBE, founder of the Born Free Foundation, said upon his arrival at the shelter. “I am overjoyed we can offer him happiness in a natural and safe environment, with the care and love he deserves.”
However, Dolo was still so traumatized from his former life that he was at first wary of his new surroundings. “Unsurprisingly Dolo didn’t come bounding out,” Gosset revealed to The Dodo. “He didn’t want to leave his box and roared his displeasure. That [roar] was unexpected, deafening and more than a little bit frightening, but after an extended pause he sauntered out into his new home.”
And, with a little help from a female friend named Safia, Dolo soon settled into life at his new large, green enclosure. Safia had also been rescued from captivity and shared a special bond with Dolo, despite the fact they were completely different characters. “Dolo is not as active as his companion Safia, but he enjoys basking in the warm sun or sleeping in the shade in the company of the feisty Safia,” Brooks told The Dodo.
Soon, in fact, Dolo began to explore his new home and could often be seen playing in bushes or enjoying a nap in the shade. Now sporting a fabulous full mane, he looked like a completely different cat to the one found chained up in the backyard. What’s more, the lion quickly became a firm favorite at Born Free.
And, according to his carers, Dolo grew stronger each and every day until he finally resembled the powerful creature he was born to be. Cementing his status as “king of the jungle,” the lion loved nothing more than roaring out over the sanctuary. After years of neglect, then, his voice was finally being heard.
And with the amazing progress he has made, it’s hoped that Dolo’s story will become a powerful symbol of conservation in Ethiopia. Indeed, his new life at Born Free has enabled the cat to be part of a conversation about the illegal animal trade in the country. And while Dolo himself will never return to the wild, by sharing his story his rescuers are hopeful that other big cats can avoid his fate.