Many of you may recall the lion, Blondie, from your visits to our centre over the last 13 years. He was confiscated from an Egyptian circus that was traveling through Africa in 1996. They apparently went bankrupt in Mozambique and abandoned their animals, locked in small cages and with little or no attention at all. They were in very poor condition and we were asked if we would offer them sanctuary here at the centre. Both had broken their teeth from biting at the bars desperately trying to free themselves.
Animal Defenders from the UK came to the rescue and managed to find homes for all the animals from dogs and horses, to lions and tigers. It was not an easy task, with a lot of obstacles in the way, but eventually with plenty of persuasion and determination they won and the animals were distributed to different centers in the country. Three of these lions were brought to Moholoholo Rehab Centre. Blondie was the youngest of the lot and seemed to have been in the best condition.
A sight Brian and Jenny will never forget is the moment the door was opened to the lions ‘traveling boxes’. They stood and looked out into their ‘large’ enclosure’, then one proceeded to venture out……..put a paw on the ground and took it back immediately, tried again, then ventured out….. walked up to a tree, smelt it, then walked the entire enclosure and I am sure if he could have spoken he would have said “Is this real? Am I really on natural ground? Will there truly be no more bars, prodding, eating measly meals? Am I really going to have room to play, roam and walk around which I have been missing for all these years from being cramped in a tiny 2 x 4m cage!?)
Jenny also recalls that for the first four months that these lions were at the centre, they had never roared. One evening they put a tape on classical music (including one track which sounded much like the music one would play in a circus), and were amazed by the sound which erupted from these reluctant residents. From then on the circus lions of Moholo Rehab roared on a daily basis It seems so strange that something that would bring back unhappy memories would stir them on to roar.
Many people think that animals do not remember. Just one of many incidences which proves this theory wrong was on a day when an African by the name of Wisdom from Zambia, came to visit us. It turned out he was one of the guys who cared for the lions whilst working in the circus. We asked him to call Blondie then known as Akef, who was lying at the back of the large enclosure. Wisdom called him……what an amazing sight!!
After many years of sanctuary here at the rehab, these lions (Goldie, Shortie and Blondie) had stolen the hearts of many visitors and staff which came through the gates. Their story was heartbreaking, and their little stubby teeth were a constant reminder of their painful past. It was a pleasure to offer these boys our very best, good food, a nice large enclosure, and even an attractive lioness (who by the way was given contraceptives so that no breeding occurred)!
In 2008 we were forced to make the difficult decision to have Shortie humanely euthanized. As his name suggests he was a very stunted lion and seemed to only shrink as time progressed (as is so often the case with old age)! It was only the common signs of age; weight loss, inability to control his bladder and difficulty in moving around and performing his usual daily behaviors which forced us to make this difficult decision.
A year later we were faced with the same prognosis with Blondie. He was losing weight at a rapid rate, he was urinating down his legs throughout the day, and his roars became less and less. The staff and students all agreed that the kindest thing to do was to put him to sleep. He was euthanized on the 21st April 2009. These boys had, at the very least, enjoyed the last 13yrs of their lives in peace, and their impact on the thousands who saw them over the years, will hopefully live on long into the future.
They have lived their years out as almost a wild lion would have and yes, we can say we gave them the best we could under the circumstances. We can always look back firstly with gratitude that we were given the opportunity to care for these beautiful lions in their last days, and that we can say they were happy.
To read more about Moholoholo Rehab Centre and all the other facilities , please visit our Moholoholo website.