Romanian five doing well in bigger enclosure

Almost two months after they arrived to spend the rest of their lives in species-appropriate care under the African sun, the five Romanian lions at FOUR PAWS LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, are adapting well in their new three hectares enclosure


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The lions who arrived on the 11th of August at LIONSROCK, were initially placed in a smaller enclosure to make sure they could be monitored while adapting. They have now found their forever home in the new enclosure that include 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.

The newest arrivals, Roman, Vincent, Dolf, Ellie, and Geena, were rescued by the animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, in September 2021, as part of a group of seven lions rescued from inappropriate and unsafe conditions in Southern Romania. The lions were brought to FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands for treatment and preparation, before their journey to South Africa. The two older lions, Simba and Elza, need specialised care and will stay at FELIDA.

FOUR PAWS was alerted to the animals and the rescue followed after lion Simba from the keepers’ breeding facility 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, now 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,” explains Sanctuary Manager at LIONSROCK, Hildegard Pirker.

This was also done so that the five young lions could meet their neighbours on the other side of the fence and get used to be part of the more than 70 lions contingent in several enclosures at the Sanctuary.

Says Pirker: “Especially Dolf, who is the most sensitive of the siblings and nervous around people, needed intensive attention from our behaviour consultant, before he was ready to go out into the three-hectares enclosure. His not-so-shy siblings had to wait so we could get him accustomed to his new African home, but they kept us busy as well.”

Dolf is the smallest male of the three and although Vincent and Roman can be seen most together, all three males have a good bond with each other. Vincent and Roman are more dominant in behavior but this do not mean that they are dominant towards Dolf. The relationships within this group work very well, so it seems all five lions feel very comfortable with this structure.

Pirker says the team of animal caretakers is still busy building up a trust relationship with Dolf. This will help him a lot to have a happy life free of stress. 

The curator of the FOUR PAWS Sanctuary in the Netherlands, FELIDA, where the five lions spent ten months before they were transferred to South Africa, Juno van Zon, joined the 40-hours move from the sanctuary in Nijeberkoop in Friesland to Bethlehem in the Eastern Free state. After arrival, he continued to monitor the five for a week to see that they are well settled, but says it was hard to leave them behind.

“My best memory is a moment after I walked away for the last time, when I saw them being together between the trees and exploring their natural habitat. They are always following each other, and I think the bond is very strong. It is especially nice to see how well Dolf is doing. I think being there for the first days and immediately setting up training programs and the husbandry that would help the lions, have borne fruit and we really see the results now.”

Van Zon says Dolf is relaxed. “The way he is exploring, feeling confident and playing during his enrichment activities. I never saw him like this before. That for me is the absolutely highlight of my work. To know we did the best for all of them and that they can life a stress-free life now.”

To the animal caretakers and staff at LIONSROCK the personalities of the five are clearly coming to the fore. Ellie is curious and inquisitive and always looking for something to do, a game to play with her sister, Geena, or a way to tease her. Geena mainly follows Ellie’s lead. In addition to playing with their enrichment activities, the sisters can also be found near brothers Vincent, Roman and Dolf most of the time.

Vincent and his brother Roman are the more dominant males compared to Dolf. Although all three brothers have a good bond with one another, Vincent and Roman can be most seen together: playing with each other and lying on close to each other in the grass. It is clear all five love the grass under their paws, the newly built platforms to lie on and to discover enrichment objects. Roman is the adventurer and loves exploring.

Head of Wild Animal Rescue and Advocacy at FOUR PAWS, Barbara van Genne, says having witnessed the whole journey of the five siblings, she is thankful and happy that FOUR PAWS is now able to give them the best life possible.

“It's amazing how quickly the lions settled in at LIONSROCK, and I look forward to seeing them live their best life for many more years to come. Most of our wild animal rescues are complicated and time-consuming, but this mission took it one step further. My fondest memory of the lions is how during their time at FELIDA they grew into confident teenagers, real rascals, showing us that they were ready for more. We listened."/ END

Note to the Editor:

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary near Bethlehem, South Africa is home to around 100 big cats, most of which were rescued by FOUR PAWS from war-ravaged zoos, circuses, private ownership, and the captive breeding industry. The Sanctuary provides a species-appropriate, lifelong home for the mistreated big cats who cannot be released back into the wild.

The habitat offers highest standards including large areas for family groups, facilitation of natural behaviour through enrichment and highest standards of medical care as well as highest security standards of enclosures. In LIONSROCK hunting, trading, or breeding, as well as interactions between wild animals and visitors, are prohibited.

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Elize Parker

Public Relations Officer

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