Lion Dubbed ‘World’s Loneliest’ Finally Returns To Africa After Years Of Isolation In Zoo

Animals Defenders International

Depending on who you ask, zoos are controversial institutions. While they may work towards the preservation and conservation of wildlife, as well as being safe havens for endangered species, some argue that captivity may also lead to stress and health problems for the animals. This is why finding a balance between conservation, education, and animal well-being remains a challenge for the zoo community.

One such case is that of the lion once known as the ‘world’s loneliest’ has finally returned to its natural habitat after enduring five years of solitude in a private zoo in Armenia.

Ruben, a 15-year-old lion, was initially part of a pride residing in the now-shuttered zoo. However, while the other lions found new homes, Ruben remained confined in a cramped concrete cell for half a decade.

In an incredible journey spanning 5,200 miles, Ruben has been transported to South Africa, where he took his first steps into the ancestral land of his lion lineage. This monumental journey was orchestrated through the collaborative efforts of Animals Defenders International (ADI) and Qatar Airways Cargo.

Ruben is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in Free State, South Africa.

“Lions are the most sociable of the big cats, living in family prides in the wild,” said ADI President Jan Creamer. “Seeing him walk on grass for the first time, hearing the voices of his own kind, with the African sun on his back, brought us all to tears.”

At first, Ruben’s legs were wobbling due to malnutrition and a “lifetime of no exercise.”

His incredible resilience has left the sanctuary staff astounded. Upon emerging from his travel crate, Ruben followed a trail of sausage to a giant catnip punchbag, his very first toy, which he promptly engaged with.

Having not heard the roars of fellow lions for years, Ruben has already begun to regain his voice, with his morning calls steadily growing louder as he rebuilds his confidence.

“His whole demeanor has transformed, his face is relaxed and no longer fearful. His determination to walk is inspiring,” said Creamer. “If he stumbles or falls he just picks himself up and keeps going. He is nothing short of heroic.”

Initially, finding a suitable flight out of Armenia for Ruben posed a challenge, but the ‘WeQare’ charity initiative of Qatar Airways Cargo stepped in to ensure his safe passage. They arranged for a larger aircraft with hold doors spacious enough to accommodate Ruben’s crate within the scheduled passenger route departing from Yerevan.

“There are a lot of logistics involved in moving animals like Ruben; from the logistics at the airports involved, the process for loading and unloading the animals from the aircraft to ensuring the correct cages and wellbeing of the animals are in place,” said Elisabeth Oudkerk, SVP Cargo Sales & Network Planning at Qatar Airways Cargo.

“It takes a lot of effort from our team to organize such transport—but it is something we are all collectively very proud to be a part of, knowing we helped give back to our planet.”

See more about Ruben’s story in the video below.


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