The heartwarming journey of the ‘world’s loneliest lion’ has finally culminated in his return to his natural habitat, following an agonizing five-year period of abandonment in a private zoo located in Armenia. Fifteen-year-old Ruben, once a part of a lion pride within the now-defunct zoo, endured years of solitude in a cramped concrete cell while all his companions were relocated elsewhere.
Ruben’s epic odyssey spanned an astonishing 5,200 miles, taking him to South Africa, where he took his first tentative steps out of his travel crate into the ancestral lands of his kind. This remarkable feat was orchestrated through the collaborative efforts of Animals Defenders International (ADI) and Qatar Airways Cargo.
Currently, Ruben is undergoing a process of rehabilitation at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary nestled in the heart of Free State, South Africa. Jan Creamer, the President of ADI, reflected on the significance of this endeavor, remarking, “Lions are the most sociable of the big cats, living in family prides in the wild. 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.”
Upon his arrival, Ruben’s legs exhibited a noticeable instability, a consequence of prolonged malnutrition and a life devoid of exercise. However, the lion’s resilience left everyone at the sanctuary astounded. He bravely strode forth from his travel crate, following a trail of sausages that led him to a colossal catnip punchbag, his very first toy in years, which he immediately engaged with.
Having been deprived of the company of other lions for an extended period, Ruben has already begun to regain his voice, with his morning roars growing progressively louder as he rebuilds his confidence.
ADI’s Jan Creamer marveled at Ruben’s transformation, noting, “His whole demeanor has transformed, his face is relaxed and no longer fearful. His determination to walk is inspiring. If he stumbles or falls, he just picks himself up and keeps going. He is nothing short of heroic.”
Initially, ADI faced challenges in finding a suitable flight to transport Ruben out of Armenia. Fortunately, Qatar Airways Cargo, through their ‘WeQare’ charity initiative, came to the rescue. They arranged for a larger aircraft with hold doors spacious enough to accommodate Ruben’s crate and incorporated it into their scheduled passenger route departing from Yerevan.
Elisabeth Oudkerk, Senior Vice President of Cargo Sales & Network Planning at Qatar Airways Cargo, highlighted the intricate logistics involved in moving animals like Ruben.
She stated, “There are a lot of logistics involved in moving animals like Ruben; from the logistics at the airports involved, the process for loading and unloading the animals from the aircraft to ensuring the correct cages and wellbeing of the animals are in place.
It takes a lot of effort from our team to organize such transport—but it is something we are all collectively very proud to be a part of, knowing we helped give back to our planet.”