Picure: Supplied (Born Free)

Cape Town - A one-year-old lion cub rescued from a flat in Paris, France last summer, where he was being kept illegally as an "exotic pet" in appalling conditions, has been returned to his African ancestral home in South Africa, international wildlife charity Born Free said on Saturday.

Following a successful appeal launched in April, Born Free would now provide the cub, named King, with lifetime care at its Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, the charity said.

King started his journey from Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in Belgium on Thursday July 5. From Belgium, he travelled under the care of Born Free’s expert team to London Heathrow Airport for a flight to Africa, courtesy of Kenya Airways. After a short internal flight, King touched down in Port Elizabeth, before travelling the short distance by road to Shamwari and to his new home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre.
 
“I am sure there will be a lot of smiling faces today! So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived! Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life. May it be a long and peaceful one,” Born Free co-founder and trustee Virginia McKenna said.

Shamwari had been home to Born Free’s two Big Cat Rescue Centres for more than 20 years. Group general manager Joe Cloete said, “To be able to welcome King to his new home is incredibly heart-warming for us, especially so during our refurbishment process of not only some of the lodges, but the Born Free Centre itself. Conserving a vanishing way of life and educating guests on the importance of living in harmony with nature and wildlife is what we strive for at Shamwari Private Game Reserve.” 

Picture: Supplied (Born Free)

 
The sad story of King before he was rescued highlighted the plight of millions of captive wild animals around the world kept as exotic pets. Born Free opposed keeping wild animals as pets. Wild animals, whether they had been taken from the wild or bred in captivity, had extremely complex social, physical, and behavioural needs, and were therefore particularly susceptible to suffer when kept as pets, Born Free said. 
 
“It is staggering that in 2018 lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe," Born Free head of animal welfare and captivity Dr Chris Draper said.

"We are concerned that King’s case is the tip of the iceberg, and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue, and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue,” he said.

African News Agency/ANA