Wednesday, June 11, 2008

FOUR PAWS successfully transfers 11 big cats from Romania to South Africa

On Saturday the animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS released 11 big cats, rescued from Romanian zoos, into the LIONSROCK big cat sanctuary in South Africa. Nine lion cubs, a grown lion and a young tigress made the almost 72-hour journey by road and air to start a new life in a natural environment. This Saturday morning, the big cats took their first steps under the African sun.

The nine cubs are aged between five and thirteen months. The cubs were the result of careless breeding in the run-down Romanian zoo of Braila and were malnourished and weak. The zoo is in dire financial straits and could no longer cover the maintenance of the lions. In return for a signed agreement to cease breeding in Braila, FOUR PAWS agreed to assume responsibility for the young lions and release them into the FOUR PAWS big cat sanctuary LIONSROCK.

LIONSROCK covers an area of 1250 hectares and is home to 36 lions, a Bengal tiger, two leopards as well as many other species of wild animal. Opened in February 2008, LIONSROCK provides wild animals subjected to harsh conditions in captivity with a better life in a natural environment. The animals at LIONSROCK are free to live out their lives safe from both human and animal predators.

The number of lions at LIONSROCK has been increased to 46 with the arrival of the nine cubs and the grown lion Jazz. Jazz was kept as a tourist attraction as a cub, where visitors to Romanian resorts were able to have their photo taken as a souvenir in exchange for payment. When Jazz became too large to handle he was stuck in a cage on a farm, where he was unable to exercise sufficiently and was seriously underfed.

Jazz has now been reunited with his former partner, the lioness Mavi. Mavi suffered the same upbringing as Jazz and was transferred to LIONSROCK in November 2007. The two lions are now rediscovering their friendship after months of separation. The lions were joined on their journey by Aline, a young tigress who was badly mauled in Hunedoara zoo after she escaped from her cage with her brother. The two tiger cubs entered the lions enclosure, where the brother was killed and Aline was lucky to escape with her life. FOUR PAWS vets were on hand to restore Aline to full health. In future, Aline will provide companionship for Coda, a two-year old tiger who arrived in LIONSROCK as a cub.

The transport of the wild cats started in the Romanian town of Braila on Wednesday the 4th of June. The lion cubs made their way first to the town of Brasov, where they were joined by Jazz. They then continued on to Hunedoara where Aline joined the transfer. The journey continued by road through Hungary, Austria and Germany to Frankfurt Airport, where the animals were transferred to a cargo plane at 9 p.m. on Thursday the 5th of June. At 3:05 p.m. on Friday the 6th of June, the big cats touched down in their new homeland, South Africa.

The big cats were met at the airport by FOUR PAWS staff and several journalists. After a short breath of fresh air and some water the animals were loaded onto a truck and taken to LIONSROCK, where they were released at 8 a.m. on Saturday – full of energy and happy to be free of captivity, once and for all.

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