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The two FOUR PAWS sanctuaries, LIONSROCK and FELIDA, are the forever homes not only for older big cats, but also for a few younger lions. The youngsters and their antics keep all our animal keepers on their toes.
The youngest lion in the FOUR PAWS Cat Pack, Nikola, at the FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary, in the Netherlands is thriving and has grown much.
Nikola is the lion cub that FOUR PAWS rescued in 2022 from Montenegro, in Eastern Europe. His story is unique in the sense that the little lion, who was only five months old at the time, roamed the streets for ten days in the cold winter, all alone. He was kept illegally by a private person and escaped. FOUR PAWS found out about his existence on the day that he escaped, and those were ten long days before he was found thankfully alive!
Fortunately thanks to the commitment of local volunteers, the team from FELIDA could bring him to the sanctuary in the Netherlands, where he got a new chance at a species-appropriate life.
The Communication and Hospitality Coordinator at FELIDA, Tess Kroon, says Nikola is maturing and well on his way to subadulthood. She explains young lions change their baby teeth when they get older. This happens after they are approximately ten months old.
“If you look closely, you can see that Nikola is changing his baby teeth and his adult canine teeth is already coming through!”
Tess Kroon, Communication and Hospitality Coordinator at FELIDA
She points out that the first few months after his arrival were stressful for Nikola. The young lion had never been in contact with lions or other people and was quickly overwhelmed by all the new sounds and smells.
“With the help of the animal caretakers, Nikola is now feeling completely comfortable with his new surroundings. He loves to explore everything, eats well, is curious towards our animal caretakers and above all he loves to play with his ball made from old fire hoses.”
One of Nikola’s favourite pastimes is playing with his jolly-eggs, a herding toy for animals. He can run after them for hours. When he is not working on his soccer skills, he is testing his strength playing a game tug of war with a special rope hung in his enclosure.
Says Kroon: “He is such an enthusiastic animal. It is so lovely to have an energetic young lion at our sanctuary. He keeps us busy with all his mischievous behaviour. To see him grow into a beautiful confident lion is the reason why we do what we do!”
Nikola has an enclosure next to four-year-old, Simba, the lion and 12-year-old, Tsezar, the tiger. He is interested in both animals, but Simba is his favourite neighbour. “The first thing Nikola does in the morning is greet him.”
Looking back on young lions taken in by FOUR PAWS over the years, the Head of Wild Animal Rescue and Advocacy, Barbara van Genne, says a heartbreaking story that also comes to mind is that of the lion brothers Masoud and Terez.
They were born in a Bulgarian zoo that functioned as an illegal lion breeding facility. They were the result of inbreeding and abandoned by their mother shortly after birth. Their sibling passed away, but the two brothers were rescued by local volunteers. They arrived at FELIDA in February 2018 when they were only five months old and weighed 20 kilograms each.
Barbara says due to their inbreeding and difficult start in life, both lions suffered from a variety of health issues, including neurological problems which affected their motor skills.
“We were able to give them a good few years at FELIDA, but they never outgrew their health issues. Some became so severe that after thorough consultations with neurological specialists and wildlife veterinarians, it became clear that that their conditions could not be treated or improved, and that pain could no longer be avoided. When there is no hope for improvement, preventing suffering is the last part of the care we can provide to the animals we rescued.”
Barbara van Genne, Head of Wild Animal Rescue and Advocacy
In July 2020 and May 2021, the FOUR PAWS team had to say their final goodbyes to Masoud and Terez respectively. “Although I am glad we could give them a second chance and positive experiences, we have to keep fighting for other lions that are still bred and kept under similar poor circumstances.”
At LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, the Romanian Five are of the youngest lions among the more than 70 lions in their care.
Almost five months after they arrived from FELIDA to spend the rest of their lives in species-appropriate care under the African sun, the five Romanian lions at FOUR PAWS LIONSROCK, are adapting well in their new three hectares enclosure.
The lions arrived in August at LIONSROCK and were initially placed in a smaller enclosure to make sure they could be monitored while adapting to their new surroundings. They have now found their forever home in an enclosure that includes micro-habitats such as a small dam, a shady forest, rocky outcrops, rolling ridges, and the majestic backdrop of the LIONSROCK hill that the sanctuary was named after.
Roman, Vincent, Dolf, Ellie, and Geena, were rescued in September 2021, as part of a group of seven lions.
FOUR PAWS was alerted to the animals and the rescue followed after lion Simba from the keepers’ breeding facility had appeared in a shocking music video.
After almost a year since the original rescue, the playful and robust three-year-old siblings who were kept in a private backyard in Romania, have the run of their extended enclosure.
“With the release into the bigger enclosure, it was time to show them their extensive forever home and give them time to explore every day for some hours.”
Hildegard Pirker, Sanctuary Manager at LIONSROCK
Whether at FELIDA or LIONSROCK, there is a place for young and old big cats in need, and a forever home for all ages.