The Rescue of 4 Ex-Circus Lions

On Sunday 18th October 2015, after many months of hard work and fundraising, 4 ex-circus lions finally arrived at Five Sisters Zoo. The lions have been living happy, safe and healthy at the zoo ever since then. Read their story below!

The Story of the Lions


5-sisters-zoo-PrideAPlaceIn May 2014 four male lions were confiscated by the Belgian Government from “Zavatta” a travelling French Circus who were performing in the City of Luik; a french speaking area of Belgium.

since March 2014, Belgian law forbids the use of wild animals in circuses. Despite Government Inspectors of Animal Welfare warning the circus of this fact on three occasions, the circus refused to stop performing.

A few days after the final warning, government officials confiscated the circus trailer and drove it to a Belgian rescue centre that are able to facilitate the emergency temporary homing of confiscated animals. The centre was able to assess the lions and since May, has provided a safe and secure area for them. Since then the Centre has been desperately trying to find a permanent home for them as they are not able to keep them indefinitely.

Once the rescue centre had removed the lions from the circus trailer – the only home that the lions had ever known – they found it to be in a terrible condition with large pieces of metal jutting out and holes in the floor and the space terribly cramped for four large wild animals. Despite this the Belgian rescue centre has confirmed that “they are huge and in good health”

The Belgian rescue centre is unsure as exactly what sub-species the lions are, explaining that lions in circuses are often bred over many generations, without studbooks or care to genetic suitability, and sub-species are often mixed.

We do know that they have all been castrated, probably at a very young age. All the energy that would normally be invested in male hormones and growing manes has therefore gone into their growth, possibly explaining why they are so large. They were most probably born in this or another circus as it is commonplace for young lions to be transferred from one circus to another.

A less noticeable feature is that they don’t have claws on their fore-paws. This is incredibly sad, because cats must be able to scratch to keep their claws healthy, mark their territories, and stretch out their muscles. Presumably their claws were either cut off or pulled out, but we can’t know for sure. Apparently this frequently happens in circuses as it makes the animals less dangerous.

One of the video clips below (provided by the rescue centre) shows the lions reaction to a stick. A spokesman for the centre  stressed “it’s something we normally would never do in the rescue center, so it’s with pain in my heart, but I think it’s important to show you how the animals react to a stick. We often see this in circus animals. They were often beaten up, and really know the stick… When I show the stick to my dogs, they are happy because they think they can play. The lions however cringe, showing that they had a terrible life. This is why I am so happy to give those lions a new life, and this new life starts here in the rescue center. We don’t know where it will end, but I hope we will have the permission very soon to look for a definitive and good solution. ”

That solution is Five Sisters Zoo! We have pledged to bring these 4 lions to live permanently at the zoo. Having identified a suitable 2 acre site, the aim is to raise £150,000, build a suitable enclosure, and bring the lions to live at the zoo permanently, all within a 6 month period.We have succeeded in the past with our 3 ex-circus bears and are now determined to do it again, and give these poor lions the peaceful and permanent home their deserve!

The other two video clips below (also from the rescue centre) were filmed in May of 2014.  The first clip shows the lions arriving at the centre immediately after they had been confiscated by the police.  The circus trailer is the only home the lions have ever known, and it was in a terrible state.  The second video shows the lions in the centre. At the end of the clip it states that they hope to be able to find a home – this will now be Five Sisters Zoo!


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UPDATE 21st OCTOBER 2015: They are here! We are absolutely delighted to announce that the four ex-circus lions have arrived safely and are now here at Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian for all to see. After a long campaign to raise the funds needed to ensure that we could build a wonderful and permanent home for the lions and bring them safely here, it is truly fantastic to see them already settling in. They arrived here at the zoo very late on the evening of Sunday 18th October 2015 and were introduced to their fabulous 2-acre home on Monday morning.

We send out our utmost thanks to everyone who has helped us to achieve this fantastic mission, and been a part of this journey. We encourage you all to come see the lions here at Five Sisters Zoo, who you have become so involved with through your fundraising efforts and sharing their story.

Thank you for your support, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

UPDATE 9th OCTOBER 2015 : Amazingly we have just over £6,500 left to raise to reach £140k and the last £10k will then be donated by the Garreth & Nicola Wood.  This week, work has continued fitting out the indoor den area – wooden beds have been added, the remaining metal work/doors are now in place, sinks have been fitted into each den for drinking and work continues on the electric fence system.  The pond and waterfall concrete areas have now been sealed and will soon have water flowing, the grass is greening and bark has been laid in the tree area.  We hope to announce an arrival date in the very near future!  Please scroll down to read the background story and video footage of the lions.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2015 : THE FINAL PUSH!! We only have £20k left to raise, taking into account the £10k that Garreth and Nicola Wood have pledged when we reach £140k.  We are now looking at suitable dates to transport the lions to the zoo – hopefully in October!  Work continues at a good pace in the new enclosure – the indoor den area is nearing completion, all the fencing is in place and the brackets for the electric fence system are being installed as at 14th September.  Fences/visitor barriers have also been painted. The outdoor rock work/pond is nearly complete, the pump will be installed soon, topsoil has been laid and grass seed has been sowed.  Thank you to everyone who has donated or helped in any way, hopefully now the dream is about to come true!

UPDATE AUGUST 2015 : Work on the new lion enclosure is well underway and it’s really starting to take shape! Their indoor den has 4 walls and a roof, the perimeter fence posts are all in place and the fencing is currently being attached. We still need further support and donations to reach our target of £150k needed to complete the enclosure and transport the lions to the zoo – hopefully this October.  Thanks to everyone who has helped or supported this appeal in any way.  Please see below for the background story and videos of the lions…

UPDATE AS AT MAY 2015 : Disappointingly, we have had to confirm to the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium that we will not be able to bring the lions to the zoo in June due to lack of funds.  We are determined to raise the remaining money needed to construct their new enclosure and transport them to the Zoo this September.  Thank you for helping to make this happen!

What are people saying about our lion rescue?

Brian & Shirley Curran, Owners of the Five Sisters Zoo:

” We have now confirmed to the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium who are temporarily holding the 4 circus Lions that we are going to bring them to Five Sisters Zoo. This is an enormous undertaking for us but with all the pledges of help we have had we are confident that we can make this happen. We had not intended asking for public donations but the overwhelming response was that the public want to help and for this we are so grateful.

We have estimated that the enclosure and housing will cost around £150,000 and details for donating can be found on our website . We have a very short timescale to make this happen (6 months).”

 Else Poulsen, Behavioral & Environmental Solutions :

“Through the generosity of Hauser Bears, I have had the privilege to work closely with Shirley and Brian Curran and their dedicated staff in the rehabilitation of their three rescued circus brown bears at the Five Sisters Zoo.  This incredible facility has worked to build a natural habitat enclosure, develop a nurturing bahavior-based husbandry routine and build positive relationships with Suzy, Peggy and Carmen so these bears have not just had an environment withi which to recover but to thrive. Now, they will do it again with these four Belgian circus lions! This little zoo is a beacon in the international zoo and sanctuary community of what’s possible with gritty determination and doing things for all the right reasons.  I’m very happy for these lions, their future is bright in the hands of the Five Sisters Zoo.  Please help them.”

Lesley Winton, Founder and Director of The Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears :

“The dedication, commitment and unwavering determination that Shirley and Brian Curran and their team at the Five Sisters Zoo showed while embarking on the rescue of Carmen, Suzy and Peggy the ex-circus bears was a force to be reckoned with. Nothing would have stopped them from saving the bears from a grim fate. Shirley and Brian have a devotion towards rescuing animals in need that is only matched by their big hearts. There is no doubt in my mind that there are no two better people to embark on the rescue of the circus lions and I would urge everyone to support them in their efforts to bring these magnificent animals to the safety and sanctuary of the Five Sisters Zoo.”

 Karine Hauser, Founder Hauser Bears :

“The Five Sister’s Zoo is an incredible organisation whose commitment to animal welfare is exemplary. Husband and Wife Brian and Shirley Curran, who own and manage what is more of a sanctuary than a zoo, are two extraordinary people who have instilled a wonderful ethos to their whole team, through their genuine love and respect for animals. Having supported FSZ through Hauser Bears with their project rescuing three circus bears, and having followed the rehabilitation process of these bears with their mentor Else Poulsen, world renouned Canadian bear expert, I have seen first hand their uncompromising care and the personal investment both financial and emotional which they put into righting some of the wrongs that mankind has previously done. I also know that when the FSZ team and their wonderful volunteers put their hearts and souls into a project, not only do they make it happen, but they do it to excellent standards, always putting the animal’s agenda first. Anyone donating to this project will be supporting a wonderful life changing project for 4 Lions who have known nothing but pain and suffering throughout their lives to date.”