With his glorious golden mane, magnificent Simba cautiously surveys his new kingdom as he stalks through dense bushes.
His wariness is understandable. For the first time, the 11-year-old lion is safe from being shot by trophy hunters or slaughtered for his bones. Last weekend, The Mail on Sunday revealed how Simba’s life had been saved by undercover investigators led by the former Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft.
Bred in captivity in South Africa and touted to foreign hunters, just over six months ago Simba was being pursued through a fenced enclosure by a British hunter who had paid thousands to shoot him with tranquilliser darts.
But last weekend, just hours before another hunter was due to arrive to kill him, Simba was dramatically rescued from the farm where he was being held and taken to a secret location and released into a large enclosure.
While these joyous pictures show Simba in good physical health, those caring for him say he has been traumatised by his ordeal.
He spent last week hiding in areas of thick vegetation and the wait for him to regularly roar – the telltale sign of a confident male dominating his terrain continues.
‘He is in a large enclosure that gives him the privacy he needs without exposing him to additional stresses,’ said one of those caring for him.
‘But he is fearful and not comfortable when people are nearby. He is doing his best to keep a large distance between himself and any people.’
There are plans to eventually introduce another lion into the enclosure to keep him company.
As well as revealing Simba’s story, Lord Ashcroft’s year-long investigation exposed the Government’s failure to close a loophole that allows the importation of captive- bred lion trophies into Britain.
The UK representative of a South African safari company advised an undercover investigator onhowtobypassaUSbanon importing captive-bred lion tro- phies by first legally importing it to the UK and hiding the lion’s skin inside a dead red deer, before moving it to the US.
In a letter to Theresa May, a string of celebrities, including Joanna Lumley, Keeley Hawes, Eric Idle, Sir David Jason, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and singer Liam Gallagher, have demanded a halt to the importation of hunting trophies. ‘Trophy hunting is cruel, immoral, archaic and unjustifiable and can act as a cover of illegal poaching,’ the letter states.
Last night, Ms Lumley told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It would be so easy to resort to name-calling but that is what I’m going to do. Who are these people? What kind of sick, cruel, vain, ridiculous cow- ards are they, tracking and killing drugged animals for pleasure?
‘And when that person gets home, with the gory and pathetic heads and carcasses, who are the people who think such killers are brave or fine, or in any way praiseworthy?’