FOUR lions arrived in Scotland today from an animal sanctuary in Belgium after they were confiscated from a French circus.
Five Sisters Zoo in West Calder, West Lothian, raised £150,000 through an appeal to build a new, two-acre enclosure for the male big cats.
The enclosure, which is the result of months of planning and construction work, includes a large outdoor area with rocks, a waterfall, pool and platform as well as a large heated indoor den.
Shirley and Brian Curran, who own the zoo, travelled to Belgium on Saturday and helped transport the lions to Scotland in a convoy along with two representatives of the Belgian Rescue Sanctuary.
Staff at the centre have been caring for the lions – called Simba, Sangaka, Mustafa and Tiny – since they were seized from the circus in May last year.
Matthew Ford, from Specialist Wildlife Services, has been co-ordinating the transfer.
This has been an amazing and challenging journey, but we are extremely proud to have accomplished everything we set out to doBrian Curran
The convoy left Belgium yesterday morning and was due to arrive at the Five Sisters Zoo around midnight yesterday or in the early hours of this morning.
The lions were set be unloaded into their indoor den area, checked by a vet and then be left to recover from their journey.
The Currans said they were “extremely grateful” to everyone who had donated to their appeal.
They said: “This has been an amazing and challenging journey but we are extremely proud to have accomplished everything we set out to do and are forever grateful for the huge support from both near and far of the thousands of supporters who have helped make this possible.”
The lions have no manes because they have been castrated, preventing their development. They are thought to have been born in captivity and sold to the circus as mere cubs.
The circus was performing in Luik, in French-speaking Belgium, when officials seized a trailer and took the lions to a rescue centre.
Companies including Almond Housing, Montana Home Care Ltd, 356 Media, and Paradise Island Adventure Golf helped in the fundraising drive.
Local firms also helped by supplying materials used to build the enclosure either free or at a reduced cost. Hundreds of supporters held sponsored events including skydives, wing walks, haircuts, cycles, walks, runs, cake sales, dressing up events, bag-packing and also by sponsoring name boards and plaques at the zoo.
Five Sisters Zoo, which was hit by a fire in 2013, has already successfully re-homed three former circus bears after launching an appeal in August 2011.