Lion cub rescued from Beirut high-rise

10 November 2011 - 02:11 By NASHIRA DAVIDS
A lion. File photo.
A lion. File photo.

Leo, a two-month-old lion, spent his short life on the balcony of a 14th-floor flat in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

After he was rescued by animal protection activists Animals Lebanon, the courier company DHL helped to fly him to the Drakenstein lion sanctuary in Paarl, Western Cape, last week.

"When he arrived, it was the first time he had ever really been outdoors. He is adapting very well," said sanctuary owner Paul Hart.

"But he has some behavioural issues. Over time that will improve. He does not like being touched at all. He also has this very weird trait of looking up skyward all the time. I think he is looking for the roof."

Hart said it was not illegal to have wild animals as pets in Lebanon. The activists heard about Leo and convinced his owners that a sanctuary in Africa was a better home than their balcony.

"Apparently lion cubs sold as pets are smuggled in from Syria and they're usually sold for $350 (about R4500 into the pet market," said Hart.

Silke McCarthy, DHL's marketing and communications manager for sub-Saharan Africa, raised Leo's plight with her boss, and said his trip to South Africa "went smoothly".

But Leo can never become a fully wild animal.

"He is very human-imprinted and obviously hand-reared. The likelihood of him ever surviving in the wild and not getting himself into trouble because he ate somebody - because he associates humans with food - is nil," said Hart.