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A Story Of A Lion Rescued From 6 Years Of Solitary Confinement In An Abandoned Zoo
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A Story Of A Lion Rescued From 6 Years Of Solitary Confinement In An Abandoned Zoo

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Today, we would like to share with you a both heartbreaking and inspiring story about Ruben, a lion from the Armenian Zoo, who was rescued from his miserable existence in solitary confinement and relocated to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. This became possible thanks to Animal Defenders International, an organization dedicated to helping wild animals in need. As we read in one of ADI’s Instagram posts: “Ruben was left behind when a private zoo closed, and the other animals relocated. He has not heard another lion’s roar for six years.”

After all the preparations, including arranging transportation, all necessary veterinary health check-ups, and other logistics, the ADI team in Armenia was ready to send Ruben off to his new home in South Africa. The rescue organization has been providing their followers with updates about the lion ever since they decided to help him and give him another chance at life.

More info: Instagram | Facebook | adiwildlifesanctuary.org.za

Meet Ruben, a lion rescued from six years of solitary confinement in an abandoned zoo in Armenia

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Bored Panda reached out to Tim Phillips, the vice president of Animal Defenders International, to find out more details of Ruben’s story. We knew the circumstances that led to Ruben’s prolonged isolation, but we were wondering how ADI became aware of his situation and decided to help the wild cat in need. We found out that: “A friend told us about a lion living all alone in an abandoned zoo in Armenia. The owner of the private zoo had died, the zoo closed and all the animals were removed except this one lion who was left behind. The story hit us hard. It seemed so callous that anyone would remove the other lions and leave one behind. Isolation from their own species is a huge problem for many animals in captivity, but what seemed to make Ruben’s isolation even worse was that he had known other animals around him and then suddenly his world went quiet. So, we started to find out more about him and where he could be kept while we made arrangements to get him out of Armenia and to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary.

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15-year-old cat earned the title of “World’s Loneliest Lion” after being left alone in a private zoo that closed

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

While other animals were transferred from the facility, Ruben was the only one who remained in complete isolation

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

The impact of Ruben’s solitary confinement on his ability to vocalize, specifically losing his roar, is a moving aspect of his story. We asked ADI’s co-founder how the lion adapted to his new surroundings in the Wildlife Sanctuary, and whether have there been any positive changes in this regard. Tim shared with us: “What has stunned everyone is the speed that Ruben has embraced his new life. His whole demeanor changed the minute that he stepped out of his travel crate. We thought he might step out, fall over and lie there bewildered. Instead, he strode out, wobbled, pressed on and headed to a big catnip punchbag and began to play with it. He is utterly engaged with his environment, he checks everything out, he plays with things, he watches what is going on around him.”

The ADI decided to rescue him and relocate him to a Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa

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Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Securing a flight from Armenia was a major challenge, as ADI needed an aircraft with large enough cargo doors for Ruben’s travel crate

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Phillips continued: “There is something very special about bringing animals home to their natural habitat, the world that nature intended them for. To see him put that first big paw on African soil, after a life on concrete on the other side of the world, was magical. He seemed to really relish the sun on his back and the wind blowing through his mane.”

Tim told us more about Ruben’s determination, which everyone around is so impressed with: “He could barely go a few steps in Armenia without tumbling over. From day one, at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, he has pushed himself on, steadying himself and driving on. His mobility, coordination and balance have improved dramatically. With all this physiotherapy he is also getting stronger.”

Qatar Airways’ WeQare charity scheme stepped in, scheduling a wide-bodied aircraft on one of their passenger routes and donating space on board for the lion

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Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Finally, the date had been set, and on August 22nd, the cat embarked on the journey of his life

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

We also heard some good news and updates about the lion’s health condition: “Our veterinarian checked on him this week and was amazed by his improvement in such a short time. He noted that Ruben’s interaction with his toys is helping his movement and balance and his arched spine is getting better. It is a combination of the treatment he is getting and Ruben’s own drive and determination.”

After completing all preparations, the ADI team in Armenia was ready to send Ruben off to his new home

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Image credits: animal_defenders_international

The lion traveled comfortably in his specially designed transport container in the temperature-controlled, pressurized hold of the plane

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Asked to share some heartwarming moments from Ruben’s arrival at the sanctuary in South Africa, Phillips once again mentioned the moment when the lion stepped onto African soil for the first time: “The most moving thing was when he came out of his travel crate, wobbled, steadied himself and then headed to the catnip bag and began playing with it. That was his first-ever toy. Over the course of the day, he destroyed it and lay down with his mane full of catnip!  He seemed to find comfort in that toy and kept returning to it and sleeping with it. On other days he has carried the toys around and put them in his sleeping areas.”

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Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

We were also curious about how the other animals’ reaction to the new resident of the facility: “The other animals reacted immediately to his arrival. Simba and Rey, two lions we rescued from a circus in Peru, came up and lay down watching Ruben. They showed no aggression, posturing or territorial behavior, they were just interested in their new neighbor. The two tigers, Max and Stripes, on the other side of Ruben, did the same, coming to see who was new in town. Ruben has watched them all with equal interest.”

Ruben’s flight to freedom took 14 hours, including a change of aircraft in Doha

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

One of the most heartbreaking things related to the lion’s life in solitude for so long was the fact that due to being alone, without any other of his kind, Ruben stopped roaring. Now, when he’s surrounded by other wild cats, he can slowly gain his roar back, and start communicating with other residents of the ADI’s Wildlife Sanctuary. “It can take days or even weeks for lions to roar when they arrive. They are in a new territory, don’t know who is around, so can be cautious about broadcasting their presence. Ruben gave a little roar on his first morning and it is slowly getting louder.”

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Finally, the rescued cat arrived in South Africa

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Tim also told us more about how the sanctuary’s staff put all the effort into preparing the lion for the big journey to South Africa: “The ADI Wildlife Sanctuary team adore him and his response to them was immediate. In Armenia they struggled giving him the internal parasite treatments that he needed for travel. He just wouldn’t come and take them. Before he arrived, we allocated a team to be his special carers to build his trust. However, on the first evening at ADIWS, he came when called and took his medications inside food held by tongs. He clearly sensed a change.”

For the first time in six years, he came face-to-face with Easy, a lioness from the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

The whole operation took place in August, meaning Ruben was not only moving countries, but also was transitioning from one season to another: “He arrived when it was scorching hot summer in Armenia and the end of winter in South Africa. So when he was loaded in Armenia, we filled his water tray with ice, then in Qatar, he was moved between aircraft by air-conditioned truck. Although used to very cold winters in Armenia, he still had to transition from summer there to winter in South Africa. So initially at night we brought him into his heated house and released him in the morning.

After a week, or so the temperatures were rising and Ruben seemed to sense spring was arriving. One evening he just decided to stay out overnight like the other lions. It was really special seeing him sitting there with an African sunset behind him.”

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

The lion’s story has touched the hearts of many people around the world. We wanted Tim Phillips to tell us how individuals and communities can support ADI’s efforts in rescuing and caring for animals like Ruben: “We need people to help Animal Defenders International care for Ruben and others like him.  Ruben is 15 years old and could live for another eight or ten years, he will need looking after for all of that time including a significant amount of veterinary care. We also have over 30 other lions and tigers, rescued from similar circumstances. You can help with just a small amount per month by adopting Ruben or one of our other lions and tigers.”

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

After all entry formalities were concluded, Ruben officially became a citizen of South Africa

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Lastly, the ADI’s vice president added: “Please don’t forget the animals who are still suffering as Ruben did. The animals in small circus cages or alone in tiny, concrete zoo cages like Ruben. Thanks to ADI, 50 countries around the world have banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Join our campaigns to empty more cages.A donation to ADI is the best way to help care for the animals we have rescued and to help us save move.”

Now, the cat has been transported to the final destination of his journey – ADI Wildlife Sanctuary

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Ruben was looked after by the medical team at every point of his transfer

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Weeks prior to the arrival of the new resident from Armenia, ADI made sure to create a perfect habitat for him, at their Wildlife Sanctuary

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Once he arrived at his new home, he remained in his crate where he felt safe, had water, and ate some food

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Ruben finally got to hear his fellow lions – Simba, Rey, and Kesari – roaring

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

The Lonely Lion from Armenia stepped onto African soil for the first time

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

After stepping out of his travel crate, he headed straight to the catnip bag and played – his first toy

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

The 15-year-old lion is being treated for spondylitis, an inflammation of the spine and joints, and may have other underlying issues

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

He is determined to walk around, even as his legs wobble, pushing himself forward

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

His roar is growing stronger and louder, as he listens to the roars of the residents next door

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Six years of emptiness and loneliness have ended; now, Ruben has the company of his own kind nearby, walks on grass, and soaks in the African sun

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

There’s still a long road to recovery, and perhaps, closer interaction with other cats, but there’s no doubt he’s on the right path to a happier life

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

Image credits: animal_defenders_international

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Hidrėlėy

Hidrėlėy

Author, Pro member

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Fascinated by music, movies and sitcoms, I'm passionate about social media and can't live without the internet, especially for all the cute dog and cat pictures out there. I wish the day had about 40 hours to be able to do everything I want.

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Hidrėlėy

Hidrėlėy

Author, Pro member

Fascinated by music, movies and sitcoms, I'm passionate about social media and can't live without the internet, especially for all the cute dog and cat pictures out there. I wish the day had about 40 hours to be able to do everything I want.

Gabriela Zagórska

Gabriela Zagórska

Moderator, BoredPanda staff

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My name is Gabriela, and I’m a Community Manager at Bored Panda. In real life, it means that every day, together with my team, I ensure that all the posts submitted by our creative pandas display their work in the best possible way. I'm always on the lookout for new artists who would like to join our community and share their content with a wide audience. In addition to that, I keep my finger on the community pulse and supervise its activity, ensuring that any problems our members experience on our website are promptly resolved. Before joining the Bored Panda team, I worked as a freelancer, offering my creative services to people around the world—starting with graphic design, photography, and finally videos. Now, I pursue these activities only as a hobby, capturing moments with my cats and documenting new places I visit during my travels.

Read less »

Gabriela Zagórska

Gabriela Zagórska

Moderator, BoredPanda staff

My name is Gabriela, and I’m a Community Manager at Bored Panda. In real life, it means that every day, together with my team, I ensure that all the posts submitted by our creative pandas display their work in the best possible way. I'm always on the lookout for new artists who would like to join our community and share their content with a wide audience. In addition to that, I keep my finger on the community pulse and supervise its activity, ensuring that any problems our members experience on our website are promptly resolved. Before joining the Bored Panda team, I worked as a freelancer, offering my creative services to people around the world—starting with graphic design, photography, and finally videos. Now, I pursue these activities only as a hobby, capturing moments with my cats and documenting new places I visit during my travels.

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jjonescleo avatar
Gémeaux jumeaux
Community Member
8 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

What a heartbreaking, beautiful story. My big question remains - what in the world did this big cat eat for nearly 6 years alone in a closed-down zoo?? I searched the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary site for some clues, but came up empty so far. In any event, so grateful Ruben had the strength to persevere through all those lonely years, to see his way to the redemption he so deserves!

makgotsomahlangu avatar
parvathyhere avatar
Parvathy Arun
Community Member
8 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Heart breaks into a million pieces reading this and seeing his pictures! The poor poor baby! From the bottom of my heart , I thank and salute all the kind hearted people who stood together to make this transfer happen and ensure a better life for what remains of his life . Pretty sure it was not an easy road for them either to overcome all the hurdles along the way. You guys deserve a special place in heaven ! Thank you!

susangreen_2 avatar
Susan Green
Community Member
8 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I’ve seen this video, it made me cry. It angers me how some people treat animals.

Load More Comments
jjonescleo avatar
Gémeaux jumeaux
Community Member
8 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

What a heartbreaking, beautiful story. My big question remains - what in the world did this big cat eat for nearly 6 years alone in a closed-down zoo?? I searched the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary site for some clues, but came up empty so far. In any event, so grateful Ruben had the strength to persevere through all those lonely years, to see his way to the redemption he so deserves!

makgotsomahlangu avatar
parvathyhere avatar
Parvathy Arun
Community Member
8 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Heart breaks into a million pieces reading this and seeing his pictures! The poor poor baby! From the bottom of my heart , I thank and salute all the kind hearted people who stood together to make this transfer happen and ensure a better life for what remains of his life . Pretty sure it was not an easy road for them either to overcome all the hurdles along the way. You guys deserve a special place in heaven ! Thank you!

susangreen_2 avatar
Susan Green
Community Member
8 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I’ve seen this video, it made me cry. It angers me how some people treat animals.

Load More Comments
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