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Journey to Africa: FOUR PAWS celebrates successful transfer of rescued lions from Europe to South Africa

FOUR PAWS founder Heli Dungler is watching Kongo's first steps closely.
© FOUR PAWS | Mihai Vasile

Lions set to start their new lives in FOUR PAWS’ LIONSROCK sanctuary in South Africa

Johannesburg, 7 July 2014 - Six formerly captive lions are today enjoying a taste of the life nature intended for them, thanks to international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, who successfully released them into their LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa this week.


The transfer of the lions, Kongo, Nora, Neida, Simba, Pregan and Gypsy, marks the beginning of an incredible new chapter in the turbulent lives of these beautiful animals, all of whom had previously led a miserable existence in zoos or circuses.


For the past few years, the rescued lions have been kept in the Dutch rescue centre FELIDA, a small facility that FOUR PAWS has been helping in the last year to improve standards and living conditions for the big cats. Now, after months of planning by FOUR PAWS logistics experts, local animal keepers and a team of experienced Dutch and German veterinarians, the six lions have been released into their new homes, where they can enjoy the large expanses of land, under the African sun alongside the 80 other lions and 14 tigers already living at LIONSROCK sanctuary.


Before the lions came to the rescue centre in the Netherlands, they were forced to perform in circuses or were kept in small enclosures leading miserable lives in zoos in Europe. The impressive Kongo and his two sisters Nora and Neida, all of whom are 11 years old, were originally brought to the centre by their former trainer when he could not use them for his circus show anymore. Two of the other lions, Simba and Pregan, both seven years old, were born in a zoo in Germany and transferred to the centre in 2012.


The lions have been subjected to terrible suffering, which makes their successful release in South Africa even more poignant for the staff at FOUR PAWS. One of the lions, Pregan has no mane, a result of being castrated as a younger lion. Gypsy has also suffered a great deal. She was rescued alongside another lion (who unfortunately died last year) from a desolate Romanian zoo. The eleven-year-old lioness has shortened bones and cannot walk properly.


Heli Dungler, founder and president of FOUR PAWS, attended the emotional release of the lions in South Africa. “It was a very special moment for our team. In the Netherlands, Kongo, Nora and Neida only had 130 m² of space. Here in LIONSROCK they can enjoy an area of one hectare. The warm and dry climate will be very good for Gypsy’s bones,” said Dungler. All the new arrivals are being carefully monitored by the LIONSROCK team and a Dutch animal keeper, who accompanied the lions to South Africa.


A transfer of this kind requires a lot of planning and experience. “Security for humans and animals always has priority for us,” said Robert Hengl of FOUR PAWS, who coordinated the transfer. “An experienced team of veterinarians worked in parallel to ensure the transfer went smoothly.”


Buoyed on by the success of this latest transfer, FOUR PAWS will be taking further measures to improve the situation of the big cats remaining in FELIDA and plans to transfer other big cats to LIONSROCK in the future.


FOUR PAWS’ Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK provides an appropriate, lifelong home for rescued big cats that have been kept in inadequate conditions in zoos, circuses or private captivity. The habitat, constructed for the big cats in 2007 in South Africa (Free State province, 18 km from the town of Bethlehem), includes large areas for family groups, enrichment to facilitate natural behaviours and high standards of medical care. In LIONSROCK hunting, trading or breeding of wild animals is strictly prohibited. The park encompasses a total area of 1,250 hectares. The enclosures for the big cats (112 animals in total; mostly lions, but also tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals, wild dogs, hyenas and servals) covers an area of 56 hectares. In the rest of the park, other typical South African species live freely (e.g. zebras, wildebeests and other antelopes etc.).