The World’s Loneliest Lion Rescued From Cage After 15 Years, Waits to Go Home to South Africa

Ruben the lion spent 15 years locked in a tiny cage but has finally been rescued and given his first taste of freedom.

Held captive in squalid conditions in a private zoo that had closed down, the traumatized animal spent five years completely alone and in silence. Other animals were relocated, but there was no room for Ruben, said a spokesperson from Animal Defenders International, the non-profit organization that saved him.

Located on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the zoo belonged to a Russian oligarch, the charity said. After a major rescue operation, the battered, lonely lion has now been relocated from the concrete cell to a temporary quarantine facility in an Armenian sanctuary. Efforts are going on to move Ruben to his final home in South Africa.

“Let’s bring him home,” said ADI.

Ruben during his relocation from the zoo in Armenia. (Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

(Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

Ruben’s former cell was just a few feet wide, but he is currently staying in a heated night house with a hay bed and a heated outdoor area which, though small is “more space than he has ever known,” ADI said in a statement.

In poor condition, with terribly matted fur and decaying teeth, Ruben is also suffering a neurological condition, possibly caused by a brain or spine injury. Updating on the lion’s progress, ADI said: “He wobbles as he walks and sometimes his legs fold under him. He has miosis of the eye … small, constricted pupils. He appears able to see things, reacts to people around him, even some distance away, and [has] good hearing.

“He has broken and cracked teeth, but at this stage it is not impacting his eating and he is even crunching bones.”

Efforts are underway to help Ruben regain health and strength enough to move him to an ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in his native Africa. Once there, workers will have access to more advanced technology and treatment, allowing them to treat his more serious issues and get dental work done.

Ruben at his temporary home in Armenia. (Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

(Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

Ruben’s temporary home in Armenia, a quarantine unit. (Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

Appealing for public action to help support their mission, the charity said their latest adoptee now has a chance at the same wonderful life enjoyed by their other rescued lions and tigers at their safe refuge in South Africa.

“He will walk on grass for the first time in his life, feel the sun on his back, the wind through his mane,” ADI said.

“Ruben will see and hear other wildlife like ground squirrels, mongoose, rabbits, hares, birds and more. He will have the freedom to choose where he wants to be, lying in the sun, or inside his den, or up on the platform watching the neighbors. The richness of life on earth will be his, for the first time.”

(Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

(Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

The plight of the maltreated lion has captured worldwide attention, but due to the risk of inflaming tensions in the politically volatile region, the initial rescue operation had to be carefully planned in secret and strategically undertaken, according to the Daily Mail.

“The former oligarch’s family were keen for Ruben to have a better life and agreed to the move, which had to negotiate multiple armed check-points,” the news outlet reported.

Preparations are underway to transport Ruben to South Africa in March. The journey requires extensive planning and includes applying for necessary permits, building a special crate, preparing his new habitat, and booking flights and ground transport. Once there—after a very long journey—Ruben can, at last, have the life he always deserved.

(Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

(Courtesy of Animal Defenders International)

“At the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, Ruben will have a multiple section habitat to provide steadily more space as his movement improves,” the organization posted on Facebook. “We will change the platforms/enrichment to help him—low, wide steps around the platforms, enrichment toys only on the floor to avoid neck and spine stretching, avoid over-exertion.

“He will hear and see other lions (and tigers); across the road on one side is Coco, Chino, Kesari, Simba, Rey and over the road on the other side, tigers Max and Stripes. When he roars, the whole sanctuary will roar back. He will very quickly join in the morning and evening sanctuary-wide conversations roared across from one group to another.”

Animal Defenders International has been working to end the suffering of animals in captivity for over 20 years. To date, they have successfully rescued hundreds of animals, including lions and tigers, from circuses all over the world.

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