Ruben, the world’s loneliest lion, has finally found freedom after five years of silence in an abandoned Armenian zoo.
Thanks to the relentless efforts of Animals Defenders International (ADI) and the generous Support of Qatar Airways Cargo, Ruben embarked on a remarkable journey that has led him to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary (ADIWS) in Free State, South Africa, where his rehabilitation has begun.
Ruben’s story is a poignant reminder of the dire consequences of neglect and isolation on these majestic creatures. He was the sole resident of a private zoo in Armenia that had closed its doors.
While other animals were relocated to safer places, there was no room for Ruben, and he languished in a cramped concrete cell, his plaintive roars echoing unanswered into the empty void.
The turning point came when ADI and Qatar Airways Cargo joined forces to orchestrate a 5,200-mile journey for the 15-year-old Ruben. His arrival at ADIWS marked the beginning of his transformation, as he heard the voices of his kind for the first time in years. Gradually, his morning roars grew louder as he regained his confidence.
ADI President Jan Creamer explained, “His whole demeanor has transformed, his face is relaxed and no longer fearful. His determination to walk is inspiring. If he stumbles or falls he just picks himself up and keeps going. He is nothing short of heroic. Incredibly, in just a few days his movement is already improving. We know this will be a long road and will require ongoing veterinary treatment but the start of his new life could not have been better.”
Ruben’s journey to happiness faced a hurdle when ADI struggled to find a suitable flight for him out of Armenia. However, Qatar Airways Cargo’s ‘WeQare’ charity initiative came to the rescue, arranging a larger aircraft with hold doors spacious enough for Ruben’s crate. The airline even provided an air-conditioned truck to facilitate his transfer between aircraft at Doha. ADI’s President and Vice President, Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips, accompanied the lion to ensure his safety and well-being.
Elisabeth Oudkerk, SVP of Cargo Sales & Network Planning at Qatar Airways Cargo, expressed their commitment to wildlife preservation, saying, “We are committed to preserving wildlife and endangered species, that is why we launched our WeQare Chapter 2 initiative: ‘Rewild the Planet’ back in 2020. We pledged to return wildlife and endangered species to their natural habitat, free of charge and we will continue to do so.”
Ruben’s journey is a testament to his resilience, but years of confinement and malnutrition have taken their toll. Upon arrival, Ruben was sedated and examined by leading big cat veterinarian Dr. Peter Caldwell, who initiated a treatment plan. A special habitat at ADIWS with ramps and guardrails has been designed to aid his recuperation, though the road ahead is long.
Ruben’s determination to embrace his new life has been nothing short of inspiring. Despite wobbly hind legs and a lifetime of hardship, he eagerly stepped out of his travel crate and began playing with a giant catnip punchbag, his first toy in years.
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This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 7 September 2023. Lead Image: API Media.