Last summer, distressing images started to appear on social media in France of a man kicking and beating a lion cub.
Horrified members of the public alerted the police, who managed to track down the male cub to an abandoned apartment in Paris.
He was living a filthy cage and half-starved – a victim of the illegal trade in exotic “pets”.
A 24-year-old was arrested and charged with animal abuse and illegally keeping a wild animal.
French animal charities Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche came to the lion’s rescue. They took him to Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in Belgium for treatment and rehabilitation, and while he was there he was given the name King.
In July, with the help of donations from well-wishers and companies, one-year-old King travelled to South Africa, and a permanent home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre in Shamwari Game Reserve.
He made himself at home almost immediately, confidently leaving the crate he had travelled in, exploring his new enclosure and taking on food and water.
When other Born Free big cats around him started to roar, he sat up and listened to them.
Born Free has been using King’s case to highlight the illegal wildlife trade and bring change. It suspects there are many exotic animals being kept in private hands – some bred in captivity, some traded as surplus from zoos and circuses, and others captured from the wild.
The charity’s founder, Virginia McKenna, said: “Keeping wild animals in cages is not just cruel, but shameful. Lions are known as kings of the jungle. This little king, sadly, will never wear his crown, but we can give him love and respect, and a natural environment to roam and rest in. Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life.”