Six-month-old lion cub arrives at South African sanctuary after being rescued

South AfricaFreya, a 6-month-old lion cub rescued from the trade in wild animals in the Lebanontook her curious nose out of her carrier and sniffed the air. Satisfied, she took her first steps in her new home in a sanctuary of South Africa.

Freya’s relocation to Drakenstein Lion Park is only partially successful.

He will never live as a lion in the wild. Drakenstein, which has taken in other lions from zoos and circuses in France, Chile, Romania and elsewhere, has given him lifelong shelter. Some have horrific stories of abuse, as noted on signs at the sanctuary: Ares was blind and abandoned when he was rescued. Brutus had been beaten so badly that his jaw was fractured.

But as Freya settles into her new life on the Drakenstein, animal rights groups have once again drawn attention to South Africa’s contradictory stance on the species that often symbolises African wildlife.

South Africa, with an admirable reputation for conservation and ethical sanctuaries such as Drakenstein, also has a thriving captive lion business where the big cats are bred for pets and other purposes, but also for killing in “canned hunting” experiences or for the lion bone trade.

South Africa has a special CITES permit to export lion bones and skeletons, primarily to Southeast Asia for use in traditional medicine. Canned hunting, in which lions are hunted and shot in enclosures with no chance of fair chase or escape, is also legal.

Animal rights groups have been pushing for an end to captive lion breeding. The South African government recently announced plans to shut down the industry, which is expected to take two to three years if there are no legal challenges.

There are over 300 captive lion facilities in South Africa with over 7,000 lions. This is double the number of lions in the wild in South Africa. Anti-lion campaigners say it should be made clearer to visitors that the vast majority of South African lions live in cages in the world’s largest captive lion industry.

As for Freya, her rescuers hope she will eventually bond and live in the same enclosure as Pi, a male cub they believe to be her brother who was brought from Lebanon in April.