Lion Romeo at LIONSROCK

FOUR PAWS Transfers Former Circus Lion to LIONSROCK

White lion Romeo was exploited for circus shows in France until his rescue in 2023


Vienna, 16 May 2024 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has successfully transferred a five-year-old white lion named Romeo to its LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa on 15 May. Romeo previously belonged to a circus owner who exploited him for performances. He was kept in a tiny cage inside of a truck whenever he was not forced to perform. In August 2023, Romeo was rescued by Belgian wild animal sanctuary Natuurhulpcentrum. He was in bad shape at the time of his rescue, underweight and suffering from infections, but has since improved significantly, thanks to the care and dedication of the team in Natuurhulpcentrum. He will continue to receive all the specialised care he needs at his forever home, LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary. Romeo will be able to live a lion-worthy life far away from circus performances, in spacious and species-appropriate surroundings. It is planned to socialise him with a rescued lioness to provide both lions with a companion.

The team at Natuurhulpcentrum prepared Romeo for his journey to South Africa with crate training, making sure he is comfortable enough with the transport crate. The transfer via plane from Brussels airport to Johannesburg went well, and Romeo arrived safely at LIONSROCK.

“Romeo is a white lion, which strongly suggests that he comes from inbreeding. His friendliness with humans also indicates that he was hand-raised. Both of these circumstances can lead to long-term health consequences for a lion. In the care of Natuurhulpcentrum he has already improved a lot, and we will continue to ensure that he can recover from his past neglect and mistreatment. It is nearly impossible to keep wild animals in circuses in a way that is appropriate to their natural behavior, ecology and complex needs. FOUR PAWS advocates for an end of all animals in circuses, starting with a ban on the exploitation of wild animals for performances,”

Patricia Tiplea, Head of Wild Animal Rescue & Advocacy at FOUR PAWS

White lions and tigers are inbred for commercial exploitation

White big cats are not albinos – their white coat is caused by a rare and recessive mutation. While this mutation exists in the wild, it is very rare. In captivity, this rare appearance has commercial value. White big cats attract more visitors and are generally sold for higher prices. This means that breeders actively pair animals with this recessive mutation to produce white offspring. This breeding activity results in inbreeding. Inbred animals, including lions, are more likely to develop health problems and suffer long-term health consequences.

“Romeo, like thousands of other big cats, is a victim of the commercial trade of big cats. The keeping and commercial trade of big cats is not properly regulated and enforced in Europe. Without proper management and control on trade within the EU and globally, the animals continue to be abused and exploited for entertainment and other commercial purposes, such as circuses, private keeping, unscrupulous zoos, for photo opportunities, for private hire, or in movies. This can be prevented by banning the commercial trade of big cats and their body parts. We urge all EU Members States to implement the 2023 EU Tiger Guidance to better protect these animals,” says Vanessa Amoroso, Head of Wild Animals in Trade at FOUR PAWS.

Socialisation is beneficial for lions but must be done with care

Nine-year-old lioness Nala was confiscated from a man involved in training and selling wild animals to circuses in France in 2017. She was temporarily taken in by a Spanish sanctuary and has been living at LIONSROCK since 2018. Sadly, the lion she was socialised with before, a young male named Saeed rescued from a war-torn amusement park in Syria, died in 2020. Socialising lions is beneficial for their welfare, as long as this is done in an appropriate environment and by trained professionals. The team at LIONSROCK are experts in socialising big cats in an appropriate and safe way. Once Romeo has settled into his new home and our experts have had time to monitor his behaviour and get to know his personality, he will be accommodated in an enclosure next to Nala’s to start the socialisation process.

FOUR PAWS recently transferred a young lion couple from its FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary to LIONSROCK. Nikola and Vasylyna are a successful example of socialisation and have been inseparable since they arrived at the end of April, exploring their new home together.

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary: South African sanctuary for rescued big cats

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary is one of the 13 wild animal sanctuaries and cooperation projects established by FOUR PAWS worldwide. It is currently home to over 100 rescued big cats, including lions, tigers and leopards. They were rescued from private keeping, circuses, zoos, and conflict zones all across the globe. The sanctuary encompasses a total area of 1,250 hectares. The land is also inhabited by other typical South African species that live freely like zebras and antelopes, as well as a wide variety of bird species that have found refuge on the property. 

FOUR PAWS has launched a reporting tool to report any concerning activities regarding the commercial exploitation of big cats online. The reporting tool can be accessed here.

More information on the work of FOUR PAWS to end the suffering of wild animals for entertainment can be found here.

Lion inside a cage


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Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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