Rescued from certain death 6 months ago, Simba is now safe and well in his new home.
Looking regal and majestic, he lay on a wooden platform with his proud head and golden mane held high. He appeared to be back to his rightful position as the “king of the jungle”.
It was a poignant and emotional moment for me as: the first time that I had ever set eyes on Simba. Six months earlier, my investigative team had rescued him from certain death from a hunting area on the edge of the Kalahari desert, South Africa.
Back in April, maltreated, malnourished, drugged and abused, he was destined to become someone’s trophy in a “canned hunt”: one in which the lion is shot in a severely-enclosed space with no chance of escape.
Simba was saved by my undercover investigative team, including ex Special Forces operatives, just hours before I made a series of revelations exclusively in The Mail On Sunday about the horrors of “lion farming”.
This practice involves thousands of captive-bred lions being killed either for the bone trade, mainly for the Far East market, or, as hunting trophies, often for the US and European market. A fully-grown male lion with a large mane can command a price tag of more than £40,000.
Last week, however, I travelled to a secret location in South Africa because Simba, after spending time in temporary “lodgings”, has finally been relocated to a new, spacious and permanent home.
All being well Simba, who is believed to be about 11 years old, will live in peace and safety for the rest of his days. The whereabouts of his new home must remain secret because, even now, those participating in a despicable “lion farming” industry could try to harm or kill him..
Unsurprisingly, Simba was described as “deeply traumatised” immediately after his rescue. However, he should now live for another ten years, possibly longer, and, hopefully, time will prove to be a great healer.
One of his new carers, who asked not to be identified, told me: “He is a real gentleman. Even in the few weeks he has been with us, there has been a massive difference in his behaviour. When he arrived, he was hiding and growling. Now, little by little, he is more confident and allows us to be within ten metres of him.
“The great thing is that lions forgive and dare to trust again, and to love unconditionally. This is where humans can learn from animals. Lion farming, on the other hand, touches the darkest side of humanity: it is pure ego, pure money, pure greed.”
Simba now lives alone in a two-and-a-half-acre fenced enclosure where he is fed raw meat, including beef and chicken. He has a raised area where he can lie in the sun, but he also has shade from trees.
I have made a substantial donation to ensure that Simba will be well looked after for the rest of his life. Despite his years of abuse and his recent ordeal, Simba has been given a clean bill of health by a vet.
Even before I rescued him, Simba had been shot twice by a City worker firing tranquiliser darts in an illegal “green hunt”. The Briton, Miles Wakefield, paid thousands of pounds for the “pleasure”, one that my undercover team filmed to show him and his accomplices laughing and joking as Simba staggered around after being shot and drugged. When the lion was semi-conscious, his abusers posed, holding his head in the air, for what hunters call the “kill shot”.
Simba is the lucky one and he has now become a symbol of the campaign that I, and other charities, organisations and individuals, are fighting against “lion farming”.
Simba is one of an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions kept at more than 200 farms and compounds in South Africa. It is part of a cruel, abusive and poorly-regulated industry. Incredibly, there are now nearly four times as many captive-bred lions in the country as there are wild lions.
The cash-based industry of “lion farming” puts the money that hunters pay into the hands of a small number of people who rear the captive-bred lions and who organise the “canned hunts”. This means the economic benefits to the State, wider society and conservation are negligible.
Howard Jones, the Chief Executive of the Born Free Foundation, the international wildlife charity which is seeking to end “lion farming” and “canned hunting”, told me: “This is a brutal, careless industry which has to hide what it’s doing.” He also called on the South Africa Government to be honest and transparent: “Why is the South African Government tied up with a corrupt industry?”
The South African authorities have declined my invitation to meet with them but I have successfully lobbied the British Government for the UK to end its complicity with this barbaric industry.
I was delighted that, in the recent Queen’s Speech, the Government announced its intention to ban the importation of hunting trophies from endangered species into the UK.
South Africa, on the other hand, recently announced that lions are now one of 33 wild animals which will in future be classified as “farm animals”, so that there will be fewer legal restrictions on their protection and welfare.
There is an old African proverb that is more apt today that it has ever been. It says: “Until the lion tells the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”