Lesley Coupar: More help to rehome ex-circus lions

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IN October 2014, Five Sisters Zoo launched an urgent appeal to raise the £150,000 needed to rehome four male, ex-circus lions who faced an uncertain future.

Until being confiscated from a travelling French circus by Belgian officials in May 2014, the lions’ only home had been a small cramped circus trailer. On first inspection by officials of their living quarters, the trailer was found to be in a terrible condition. At a young age, the lions had been castrated by the circus owners hence they have no manes.

This would have been the only way to confine four mature males together without them fighting. They also had their front claws pulled out which is normal practice in circuses to make them less dangerous to the trainer. Little else is known about them although they are believed to have been around six years old when they were confiscated.

Thankfully they are now safe and patiently wait at a temporary rescue centre in Belgium as the zoo raises the money needed to enable the construction of a new two-acre enclosure, comprising an indoor area and an extensive outside facility of platforms and raised areas, trees and a water hole, giving these lions more space to enjoy and explore than they have ever known.

To date, the public support has been amazing with just over £68,000 being raised through an amazing variety of fundraising events and direct donations to the zoo. These have included a wing walk, sky dive, numerous bake sales and sponsored walks, cabaret and quiz evenings, an online art auction, bag packing, fancy dress and craft evenings by supporters of the zoo from tiny tots to adults.

Schools from all over Scotland have donated by holding fun and dress-down days. Several companies have already donated to the appeal including Almond Housing Association, Forkers, 356 Media, Paradise Island Adventure Golf, Montana Home Care Ltd and Leah International and others have offered materials free or at cost price. Visitors have added their names to the sponsor board at the enclosure or have donated via the website Paypal facility.

If the remaining £82,000 can be raised to allow the completion of the new facility, the lions will arrive at the zoo this September.

The zoo is confident that not only will it be able to offer a sanctuary to these abused animals for the rest of their lives, but that it can work to rehabilitate them as they have successfully done with the three geriatric ex-circus brown bears – Carmen, Peggy and Suzy – who arrived at the zoo in spring 2012.

The full story about the lions can be found on our website.

The zoo is still urgently appealing for donations and has a wish list of materials that are needed. A social evening is planned for Saturday, August 1 and tickets are now on sale.

Lesley Coupar is responsible for marketing and visitor services at the Five Sisters Zoo, West Calder.