In place of the open savannas, there was the swish and crack of the ring-master’s whip as they were forced to perform tricks for circus crowds.
Reared in captivity, they were castrated and had their claws removed because that was the only way to keep them under control.
But now all that stands between Simba, Sangaka, Mustafa and Tiny and a happy new life in Scotland is the £100,000 required to create a plush two-acre home in West Calder .
The Five Sisters Zoo needs £150,000 to bring the lions over – with June pencilled in as an arrival date – but plans to start work on the enclosure after just over a third of the final target has been raised.
Lesley Coupar, from the zoo, is just back from a visit to a Belgian rescue centre where the animals are being looked after.
She said: “We have just over £45,000 raised, which is a fantastic start, but we need £150,000 to construct the enclosure and transport the lions to the zoo.
“Being a circus animal is a terrible life, but knowing that we are not only able to rehome them but help them on the road to recovery is a great feeling, and going to see them has made us even more determined to help.
“We need to move them from Belgium to our zoo where there is so much more space, and this will also allow the rescue centre to help more animals.”
In May the lions were confiscated from Zavatta, a travelling circus performing in Belgium, where the law forbids the use of wild animals in the entertainment form.
Despite repeated government warnings, the circus refused to stop performing.
The animals were seized and taken to the rescue centre where they have been living ever since as a new permanent home is sought.
Learning of their plight, the Five Sisters Zoo launched an appeal in October following on from their success in re-homing three bears in 2012.
Carmen, Suzi and Peggy arrived after 20 years living in cages while travelling around Europe as part of a circus troop.
Else Poulsen, of Behavioural and Environmental Solutions, worked with Five Sisters during the re-homing of the bears and insisted that the lions have a “bright future”.
She said: “This incredible facility has worked to build a natural habitat enclosure, develop a nurturing routine, and build positive relationships with Suzy, Peggy, and Carmen so these bears have not just had an environment within which to recover but to thrive. Now they will do it again with these four Belgian circus lions.”
She added: “This little zoo is a beacon in the international zoo and sanctuary community of what’s possible with gritty determination and doing things for the right reasons.”