Zoos, aquatic theme parks, and even the circus were fun attractions when we were kids. A visit from family members wasn’t complete without a trip to Marineland. I used to say the animals there and I were on a first name basis.
We didn’t know any better. Now we know that animal attractions can have terrible, earned reputations. Marineland was one of the worst. I remember as a kid being amazed by a dolphin tossing a ball but not wondering how the dolphin got there. Kidnapped. Forced to learn tricks in exchange for food. Living in a small pool instead of an entire ocean. Same for the majestic whale.
I also remember screaming for my Dad to put the window up at African Lion Safari. He thought he was being funny. I was more concerned about following the rules, but then a giraffe stuck its head inside the car and drooled green slime on me. A story told repeatedly in our family. The monkeys attacked the grill and mirrors. But the elephants stole my heart.
In Armenia, a private zoo used to have a pride of lions. All except one were sent to other zoos. Ruben, a senior, was left behind to spend five long years alone in a concrete room. Lions are social. They need companions. Ruben somehow endured.
And now this 15-year-old king – nicknamed The World’s Loneliest Lion – is back in his home in South Africa. A group called Animal Defenders International and Qatar Airways Cargo teamed up to bring Ruben home. It’s much more complicated than packing him up and shipping him. Seals from London, Ontario destined for sanctuaries died en route. Whales died on their way out of Marinland to ostensibly kinder conditions. These creatures were killed with kindness. So, rescuers took their time to move Ruben safely. He’s rediscovering his roar as he hears other lions for the first time in five years. He is an old man, rickety and slow, but exploring his new surroundings with growing confidence.
There wasn’t a dry eye when he was released in ADI’s sanctuary.
If you watch just the first 50 seconds of the video below, you’ll see the ol’ guy emerge from his crate in south Africa. He finds a sausage placed to lure him outside. And his first toy. A catnip bag. Freedom is sweet. And they all deserve to be free. The lions, giraffes, dolphins, whales, and yes, even the elephants I’ve loved so much to get close to.