FOUR lions rescued from a life of cruelty in the circus are thriving as they enjoy their first Christmas in Scotland.
Five Sisters Zoo in West Calder raised £150,000 to build a new enclosure for the male big cats through a public appeal.
And two months after their arrival from a Belgian rescue centre, the awesome foursome – known as Simba, Sangaka, Mustafa and Tiny – are settling into their new home even better than hoped.
They have also provided a boost for ticket sales, with visitors numbers rising from 80,000 last year to 120,000.
“I think they are getting into a routine,” said joint-owner Shirley Curran. “And they are getting to trust us.
“But after the situations they have been through, that’s not going to happen overnight. It is going to take them a long time for them to realise that we are not going to make them do things they are not meant to do and that they don’t want to do.
They are really content and happy and they have plenty of space. They have settled in really well and we couldn’t ask for more.Shirley Curran
“They are really content and happy and they have plenty of space. They have settled in really well and we couldn’t ask for more.”
Every morning they pace their spacious, heated indoor den, waiting to emerge into their outdoor enclosure which is far larger than the cramped trailer they once called home.
They can roam a two-acre territory with rocks, a waterfall, pool and platform, an experience which couldn’t be further from their old life performing tricks to the swish and crack of the ringmaster’s whip.
Lesley Coupar, responsible for marketing and visitor services at the zoo, said: “I can’t believe how laid-back they are. It’s like they have been here for years.”
Little is known about their early lives, but it is thought they were probably born in a circus.
It is uncertain whether they are related but they may all be from a single litter, which would make them the four brothers of the Five Sisters.
Reared in captivity, they were castrated and had their claws removed because that was the only way to keep them under control and to stop them fighting one another.
But the lions rarely fall out except occasionally over food and one of the main challenges has been making sure all four get an equal amount.
Typically, the lowest ranking male eats last and gets the leftovers while the alpha male gets the “lion’s share”.
Lesley added: “Male lions don’t normally cope well together [in a confined space]. Had they not been castrated, they would have ripped one another to shreds. But these four cuddle up to one another at night and don’t like to be separated. They really love each other.”
The circus where they were found was performing in Luik, in Belgium, when officials seized a trailer and took the lions to a rescue centre.
Local companies and firms helped in the fundraising drive or by supplying materials used to build the enclosure either free or at a reduced cost.
Hundreds of supporters held sponsored events including skydives, wing walks, haircuts, cycles, walks, runs, cake sales, dressing up events, bag-packing and also by sponsoring name boards and plaques at the zoo.