Lions are amazing, majestic animals, but sadly many spend their lives in captivity, never knowing freedom. That was the sad story for one lion named Ruben, who spent years in a concrete cell at a closed zoo, isolated from other animals — he became known as the “world’s loneliest lion.”
But now, he’s getting a new start at an animal sanctuary thanks to an inspiring rescue.
According to Animal Defenders International, Ruben, a 15-year-old lion, lived in a private zoo in Armenia. When the zoo closed down five years ago after the owner’s death, the other animals were transferred out, but there was no room for Ruben — leaving him all alone and isolated for years.
Ruben’s years of isolation have left him with physical and emotional issues that require expert care. He no longer roared after being away from other lions for so long.
“Ruben’s world fell silent and for five long years his plaintive roars have gone unanswered,” ADI wrote in a press release. In a video, ADI’s Jan Creamer called him the “loneliest lion in the world,” and pleaded for help getting him out.
The plan was to relocate him to South Africa, where he could finally be back with other lions. Transporting a lion from Armenia to Africa is no simple task, but ADI was committed to helping Ruben no matter what.
After weeks of raising money and getting proper clearances, they began to put their plan into action. Animal Defenders International first transported Ruben from the former zoo to the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets, a bear sanctuary in Armenia.
After a quarantine period in which he was given medical treatments, Ruben was cleared to fly to Africa. ADI faced a lot of obstruction and red tape, according to a press release, but Qatar Airlines donated two flights with a crate large enough to safely transport Ruben.
Finally, Ruben was brought to the wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. While he had to undergo a quarantine period, he immediately got to see another of his own kind again for the first time in five years.
“When Ruben finally arrived at the sanctuary, he was exhausted and stayed in his travel crate where he felt safe. He heard the roars of Simba and Rey, the first voices of his own kind in all those years,” ADI wrote.
Ruben will need lifelong veterinary support, but being back in a natural habitat surrounded by other lions has already made a world of difference.
“Lions are the most sociable of the big cats, living in family prides in the wild,” Jan Creamer told SWNS, per the New York Post. “So it must have been devastating for Ruben to have no contact or communication with other lions.”
“Seeing him walk on grass for the first time, hearing the voices of his own kind, with the African sun on his back, brought us all to tears,” she added. “His whole demeanor has transformed, his face is relaxed and no longer fearful…. His determination to walk is inspiring.”
And, in an important sign of how far Ruben has come, he did something in the sanctuary he hasn’t done in years: he roared!
It’s heartbreaking that Ruben suffered such isolation and loneliness for so long, but we’re so happy he’s finally made it to a peaceful sanctuary where he can spend the rest of his days with other lions ❤️🦁