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When Juno van Zon, the curator from the FOUR PAWS’ FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands, accompanied five lions rescued in Romania in August to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, he had a chance to meet up with other big cats formerly transferred under his care.
To the affable and friendly big cat enthusiast, it was exciting to see all the animals that the team used to care for at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary. There was however one big cat family that still has an incredibly special place in his heart that he was very glad to see: the Siberian tiger family. Juno had the honour to bring them to LIONSROCK just over seven years ago.
This family consists of Raspoetin who was born in May 2004 to tigers Juno and Cromwell, who were relocated from a zoo in the United Kingdom to the Dutch big cat facility that became FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in 2014. Raspoetin had three siblings born in 2009 at the facility to the same parents. The four strong and healthy siblings came to LIONSROCK in May 2015 together with Juno and Cromwell who respectively passed away in June 2021 and June 2017.
Juno says the remaining group of tigers has changed so much since then.
“You can see that they became older, but they are still doing so great! Raspoetin will always be a friendly tiger, and with my visit it was still the same old Raspoetin. He came up to the front of the enclosure, and I felt a sense of warmth seeing him. Knowing that he could spend his life in that huge enclosure with all his family members around him, was comforting to me. I again knew immediately that this was the right place for him. “
Juno van Zon, Curator at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary
To Juno, it was clear that other members of this tiger family - Rafik, Mirza and Zita - are “having the time of their life in LIONSROCK. All that they need to be happy is a big pool, space, and loving caretakers. They are enjoying themselves perfectly fine.”
He was eager to see the leopard, Bakari, as the caretakers at FELIDA were always very fond of him. Juno says at the time of the transfer he was worried it would be hard for Bakari to adjust to living more on his own.
Before the two-month-old Bakari was brought to the Pantera facility in the Netherlands in 2010 before it became FELIDA, he was used as a selfie-cub in the restaurant in a German zoo. When FOUR PAWS took the facility over in 2014 where the selfies stopped immediately, Bakari got placed in a bigger enclosure and was relocated to LIONSROCK in 2016 when he needed more space.
“Seeing him really made me realise that the behaviour of the animals changes when they are in LIONSROCK. They behave in a more natural and wild way. They have their own territory and do not need people anymore to entertain them. That is something that really stands out for me. They can live the natural life they deserve. That is the power of LIONSROCK.”
Juno points out that what makes FELIDA strong as a sanctuary is the high-quality individual care that the sanctuary can offer to the animals.
“We have one caretaker per one or two individuals. When animals are taken in, such personalised care by the animal caretakers is really needed. Most of the animals we take in have endured severe mental and physical trauma. At FELIDA we can let them gain trust again in people by giving lots of training, enrichment, and daily observations. We give them intense care so that they can recover.”
After the animals have gone through this rehabilitation, Juno and his team usually plan to see which animals are fit enough to go to LIONSROCK. He says a good example are the five Romanian lions that they brought from FELIDA to LIONSROCK in August.
“Dolf was very distrustful of people. After eight months it was clear that all of them had made huge process. Especially Dolf who started to trust us increasingly. We could ensure they weren’t frightened by the crates so they could travel the more than 20 hours to South Africa from the Netherlands without being anesthetised. This helped them to quickly adjust to the new situation in LIONSROCK. Even Dolf adapted to new situations very quickly.”
Juno keeps up with the welfare of the Romanian Five and says their progress to the big enclosure is a success. He ascribes this to the care and preparation at FELIDA.
“This helps not only the animals having the life they deserve much faster. It also helps our colleagues in LIONSROCK who take care of over one hundred animals which is a huge task. If we can sufficiently prepare the animals, it is a solution where everyone benefits.”
“I think the power of LIONSROCK is that the animals can really live as closely as possible to a more natural situation. I keep on being amazed how much the animals change and really show more natural behaviours. That is exactly what we are aiming for. A healthy and happy life for animals in their natural environment.”