Last summer, distressing images started circulating on social media in France of a lion cub being kicked and beaten by an unknown man.
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’.
His 24-year-old ‘owner’ was arrested and charged with animal abuse and illegally keeping a wild animal.
French animal charities Fondation 30 Million d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche came to the lion’s rescue, taking him to Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in Belgium for treatment and rehabilitation. It was while he was there that he gained the name King.
Now a year old, King travelled to South Africa in July 2018 to find a permanent home at Born Free's Jean Byrd Centre, at Shamwari Game Reserve, aided by the donations of wellwishers and companies.
He made himself at home almost immediately upon arrival, confidently leaving the crate, exploring his new enclosure and taking on food and water, as his natural instincts kicked in.
When the other Born Free cats around him started roaring, he sat up and listened to them.
Born Free has been using King’s case to highlight the illegal wildlife trade and bring change. The organisation suspects that there is a large number of 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.
Charity 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 at least 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.”