A CAMPAIGN to re-home a pride of abused lions rescued from a circus has cleared its first hurdle with work set to begin on a new enclosure.
Five Sisters Zoo, in West Calder, has so far raised a fifth of its £150,000 target, enough to start construction work on a two-acre area for the animals.
The lions – named Simba, Mufasa, Sangaka and Tiny – are being held at a wildlife rescue centre in Belgium after being seized from a circus in the country in May.
Zoo co-owner Brian Curran said: “We’re very encouraged by how things are going, but we’re not getting carried away. Once people know that we’re serious about this, we’ll get some momentum going.”
Animal welfare experts who have examined the lions – who have no documentation to confirm their age or subspecies – said they have had their claws removed and claimed they showed the signs of abuse.
The male lions, who have no manes due to being castrated in early life, recoil from humans who approach them with sticks or other implements, which Belgian animal rescue workers said is a sign of a “terrible life”.
Five Sisters Zoo said its current £30,000 fundraising total has been boosted by large pledges from businesses, as well as sales of lion-themed gifts and toys in the run-up to Christmas.
Visitors have snapped up cuddly toys, badges, wrist bands and mugs, while sponsorship plaques are being offered to corporate donors.
Zoo bosses hope construction of the enclosure will raise the profile of their campaign and keep donations flowing into the new year.
Mr Curran said he was “very encouraged” by the reaction of the public to the appeal, which raised £10,000 within two weeks of being launched in October.
He said: “With the lions, we received the request from the Belgian rescue centre and my first reaction was that we’d love to, but we just don’t have that kind of money.
“My instinct was that because we did an appeal for the bears [three ex-circus bears from Romania re-homed at the zoo in 2102], and received money from the public following the fire [in April 2013], that we didn’t want to go down that road again.”
Yet a Facebook post setting out the Belgian request for the zoo to take the lions, as well as the scale of the fundraising task, received 80,000 positive responses encouraging Five Sisters to take on the challenge. The enclosure will include 10ft-high fencing that extends underground to prevent the lions burrowing underneath, as well as an electrified barrier on the inside, and a safety barrier for visitors on the other side.
Mr Curran said: “We’re going to do some landscaping as well to make it more like an actual habitat for them, with trees and mounds where they can take in the view.”
The zoo aims to meet its full £150,000 target in April.
Their castration makes the lions less attractive to larger zoos, which prefer animals that can be used for captive breeding programmes, particularly if they are from endangered species.