A defanged and declawed 18-month-old trafficked lion who was rescued last week by Cambodian authorities has been returned to his owner on Monday, after Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen intervened.
The 18-month-old cub, weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds), had been imported from overseas, officials said. Wildlife Alliance, an animal rescue NGO that helped with the rescue, said that the private residence was “inappropriate” for a wild animal, and that the owner had removed the lion’s canine teeth and claws.
In a Facebook post, Hun Sen said the case was special because the owner fed the lion from a young age and “loves him as a family member”. He added that the owner needs to keep the lion in a cage to keep family and neighbours safe and feed him properly.
“I am really grateful. I don’t know how to put it into words,” said owner Guo, a Chinese businessman, after the lion, who he named Hima, was transported to his home from the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre. “We will consult people at the zoo and feed him more suitable food.”
Authorities tracked the animal down in a wealthy district of Phnom Penh after videos of the lion went viral on TikTok.”He was a rare species who was smuggled from abroad,” environment ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said when the animal was rescued.
“According to the law, people don’t have the right to raise wildlife at home, especially rare species,” Pheaktra added.
“(The return is) undermining legislation preventing ownership/trade in endangered wildlife, harming global efforts to tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade, to say nothing of stress & suffering of inappropriate captivity,” UK ambassador to Cambodia, Tina Redshaw, said in a tweet.
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