For those who can afford them, exotic animals have become a hot commodity for luxury pet owners looking to generate social media buzz. Yet while these animals may look cute and happy in their owners’ photos, their realities are often much bleaker than they appear.
One exotic animal’s life as a “social media pet” proved to be nothing like it looked online. Instead of being treated with love and respect, his owner exploited him for profit and made each day worse than the last.
The sale of exotic animals as pets has become a major issue. In most cases, these animals live in dirty cages and suffer serious mistreatment. But when a group of animal lovers caught wind of one rare animal being exploited, they quickly jumped into action.
In late 2017, videos and images surfaced online of a 24-year-old man abusing a wild animal he was keeping as a pet. A number of activists contacted law enforcement to see if this man and his “pet” could be located.
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An investigation soon began, with authorities using the man’s posts to pinpoint his location. After weeks of searching, they tracked the man to an apartment in the French suburb of Noisy-le-Sec.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found the apartment deserted. However, when they explored further, they discovered a heartbreaking sight in the back room.
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There, huddled in the corner of a small cage, was a tiny lion cub. Judging by his size, this little big cat was no older than one year old.
But the saddest part of it all was the poor shape they found him in. The cub was severely emaciated, and the many cuts and bruises on his body confirmed the reports that the little guy had been severely abused.
Not too long after the bust, police officials managed to find and arrest the cub’s owner, who had bought the animal simply to show it off online. But with the cub’s abuser behind bars, what was next for the little lion?
After hearing the cub’s story, the animal rescue organizations Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche decided to take him into their care. With their help, the little lion was transferred to the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium, a rescue center known for rescuing and rehabilitating big cats.
As the cub began to acclimate to his new environment, animal rescuers gave him a strong name to fit his story of strength: King. And, boy, did he grow to fit his name!
But as King began to outgrow his surroundings, it became time to seek out a permanent home for the young lion. And so, the animal welfare organization Born Free started a campaign to move King to his ancestral home: Africa.
According to Born Free, their plan was to move King to their Big Cat Rescue Centre at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Here, King could frolic and play alongside other lions and lionesses that had been rescued.
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Once they had raised enough money to fund their mission, Born Free placed the now fully grown King in a cage ten times the size of the one he was first found in. It would be the last cage he’d ever be put in again.
On July 5th, 2018, King took his first ever plane ride to the London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. Poor King was so nervous during the flight!
After transferring onto another flight (which is no easy task for a human, let alone a thousand-pound lion), King was finally on his way to his homeland. One short plane ride later, and King had arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Lion World Travel
The final leg of the trip was completed by truck, with King’s large cage being pulled behind it. Though the plane rides had put a strain on poor King, it would all be worth it in just a few hours.
Lion World Travel
Finally, after traveling a total 6,000 miles from Belgium to Africa, King arrived at his new home at the Shamwari Reserve. The Born Free team was nervous at first about how King would react to his new surroundings…
As King stepped out into the winter sunlight, the young lion began to playfully leap through the grass. It was the first time he had ever seen grass before, let alone touched it.
Lion World Travel
Before King could continue exploring he caught sight of his new playmates Jora and Black, who were rescued from cruelty at the hands of a circus. They greeted King with a roar that left everyone with goosebumps!
Shamwari Game Reserve
Officially welcomed into his kingdom, King took off into the brush to join his fellow lions. After a day of play, exploration, and a meal fit for, well, a king, of course, King took to the shade for a well-deserved, long-overdue rest.
King remains at the Shamwari Reserve to this day, living in peace and freedom, just as all animals should be allowed to do. Check out the video below to relive King’s incredible journey!
Isn’t it amazing to see an animal that suffered so much finally find true happiness? King’s strength and perseverance is something we can all learn a thing or two from!
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