Ruben, a 15-year-old lion who was abandoned in a private zoo in Armenia for five years, has finally returned to his natural habitat.
He was the only lion left behind in a now-closed zoo, living in a small concrete cell. Ruben has now traveled 5,200 miles to South Africa, where he took his first steps on the land of his ancestors.
The journey was made possible by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and Qatar Airways Cargo. Ruben is currently being rehabilitated at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in Free State, South Africa.
Jan Creamer, the president of ADI, said that seeing Ruben walk on grass for the first time and hearing the voices of other lions brought everyone to tears.
Initially, Ruben's legs were shaky due to malnutrition and lack of exercise. However, his resilience has amazed everyone at the sanctuary.
He walked out of his travel crate and immediately began playing with a trail of sausages leading to a giant catnip punchbag, his first toy. Ruben has also started to regain his roar, with his morning calls becoming increasingly louder as he gains confidence.
The sanctuary initially struggled to find a suitable flight for Ruben out of Armenia. However, Qatar Airways Cargo's 'WeQare' charity initiative stepped in, providing a larger aircraft with hold doors big enough for Ruben's crate.
Elisabeth Oudkerk, SVP Cargo Sales & Network Planning at Qatar Airways Cargo, said that a lot of effort goes into organizing such transports, but the team is proud to be a part of it. Ruben's first steps were captured on video, and he even found a sausage waiting for him as he took those steps.