Rescued lions join wildlife sanctuary

BETHLEHEM, South Africa Nine cubs, along with one adult lion and a tiger, took their first tentative steps into their new home Saturday at a South African wildlife sanctuary, a stark departure from bleak zoos in Europe where they suffered from malnutrition and neglect.

"The new habitat is a really perfect place for them to live out their lives with the peace and dignity they deserve," said Amir Khalil, director of Lionsrock, which was established by Vier Pfoten (Four Paws), an Austrian-based international animal welfare organization.

The cubs, aged 6 months to just over a year, were removed from their mothers at a run-down, financially crippled zoo in Romania. They arrived in Johannesburg on Friday and were then transported about 150 miles to Bethlehem, in the central Free State province.

The latest arrivals brings to 46 the number of lions at the sanctuary, which was once Camorhi Game Lodge where lions were bred for "canned" hunting. Vier Pfoten bought the 2,700-acre game lodge in 2006 and has turned it into a sanctuary.

Fiona Miles, director for Vier Pfoten in South Africa, said the animals were suffering from malnutrition and neglect when they were rescued but their conditions have quickly improved.

"When we were sent pictures, it was so sad to see how they were," she said, tears welling in her eyes as she watched the cubs playing with each other. "To see them like this -- healthy and well -- leaves me speechless."

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