Lioness rescued from circus breeder hell joins lion saved from Syria

One happy ending for two stories which could have ended in tragedy: lioness Nala, rescued from appalling circumstances at an illegal circus breeder in France, is set to join Saeed, a young male saved from a war-torn zoo close to Aleppo, at a big cat sanctuary in South Africa. The relocation is a joint project of animal welfare organizations AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection and FOUR PAWS.

Almere, The Netherlands, 12th October 2018 - In 2017 animal welfare organization AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection (AAP) conducted a major rescue operation from an illegal breeder of circus animals in France. Among the animals the team managed to save was Nala, a lioness. Bruno, a lion cub, was in such bad shape due to inbreeding and neglect that he didn’t make it. AAP’s CEO David van Gennep is still distressed by what he witnessed: ‘It was hell on earth for all those animals’.

Syria, zoo Magic World amusement park, near Aleppo | 2017 07 20 | FOUR PAWS rescue mission © FOUR PAWS
Syria, zoo Magic World amusement park, near Aleppo | 2017 07 20 | FOUR PAWS rescue mission © FOUR PAWS

International animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS evacuated lion Saeed along with twelve other animals from a neglected zoo near Aleppo in July 2017. Because of his young age, it is believed that the two-year-old lion was born in captivity during the war. After temporary stays in Turkey and Jordan, FOUR PAWS transferred Saeed to its big cat sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa in February 2018. "Starvation, diseases and bomb explosions: Saeed has endured a lot of suffering in his young live but thanks to the tireless efforts of the animal caretakers and vets involved, his health has improved enormously," says Ioana Dungler, Director of the Wild Animals Department at FOUR PAWS.

Nala in her enclosure at AAP Primadomus during her rehabilitation process. © AAP
Nala in her enclosure at AAP Primadomus during her rehabilitation process. © AAP

Very soon, the fate of Nala and that of Saeed will become one. After having been rehabilitated at AAP’s big cat rescue centre in Spain, Primadomus, Nala will be transported to LIONSROCK, FOUR PAWS’ sanctuary in South Africa. Nala will first travel by road from Alicante, where Primadomus is located, to Madrid’s airport, where she will board a plane of Iberia for the long flight to Johannesburg.

Once in LIONSROCK, Nala will be carefully introduced to Saeed. Lions are social animals and companions improve their welfare significantly. Since both animals are of a similar age, the premises of their socialization process are promising. “It is believed that Saeed shared his enclosure in Syria with another big cat. Therefore, we were looking for a companion for him for a while. With Nala we found the perfect match. We will place her in the enclosure next to him. When we see that they like each other, we will start the socialization process and – if successful – put them in one enclosure,” explains Dungler. The animal caretakers at LIONSROCK will monitor the process closely. In the past, FOUR PAWS already successfully socialized five lion pairs and helped another 15 lions to join different prides. In doing so FOUR PAWS follows a strict non-breeding policy.

Van Gennep reflects: ‘Where the circumstances leading to the drama of Syria, not least for the people there, are incredibly complex and definitely outside our scope of work or influence, the circumstances which led to the rescue of Nala and her mates are very much solvable: these animals were being bred to feed the European circuses still exploiting wild animals in their shows. We are not only talking about evident cruelty, there is also illegal wildlife trade involved. And it is not an exception: just this week a lion cub presumably coming from a French circus was simply dumped in a Dutch field. The EU needs to take this seriously and ban wild animals in circuses.’

AAP and FOUR PAWS are joining efforts, together with other animal welfare organizations throughout the continent, to ban wild animals in circuses in Europe. Already 23 EU Member States have adopted restrictions on the use of either all, or exclusively wild, animals in circuses. Not only is the practice increasingly rejected on ethical or welfare grounds. There is a growing body of evidence about the risks to public safety posed by circuses with wild animals. A recent study[1] ndicates that during the past 22 years, over 300 incidents involving wild animals in circuses were recorded in the EU. New incidents keep being reported on a regular basis all around Europe[2]. An ongoing petition to the European Commission has already collected more than 615.000 signatures demanding the end of wild animals in circuses in the EU. And a recent poll revealed that 65% of Europeans surveyed think wild animals should not be allowed in circuses in Europe.

‘In spite of this all, major countries such as Germany or France are proving very resistant to this change’, explains Dungler. ‘There are more than enough grounds for Brussels to intervene and ban this unethical, cruel, and unsafe practice for good.’

With rescue centres and sanctuaries everywhere overflowing with animals, waiting lists are long. ‘It pains us not being able to do more. It is a beautiful exception that Nala can go to LIONSROCK, in her ancestral African home. But she is one of the ‘lucky ones’. For many of her peers, there is no end in sight to the suffering. As long as wild animals are still allowed in circuses, there will be more Nalas.’

About AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection

AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection is an international animal welfare organization working for a better future for exotic, non-domesticated animals. AAP operates two rescue and rehabilitation facilities, one in the Netherlands (Stichting AAP) and one in Spain (AAP Primadomus), and is engaged in advocacy and campaigning for better legislation at regional, national and European level.


FOUR PAWS is an international animal welfare organization with headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and offices in 14 other countries. Founded by Heli Dungler in 1988, the organization strives to help animals in need with sustainable campaigns and projects. FOUR PAWS focuses on animals that are directly under human influence, for example stray dogs and stray cats, farm animals, companions animals and wild animals kept in inappropriate conditions. FOUR PAWS aims to help animals in need directly and quickly.   


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