Smuggled lion cubs will find sanctuary outside Somalia

The Times of London
Mogadishu, Somalia

Mog moggies

The resuced cubs have been named Grumpy and Scar (Times photographer, Peter Nicholls)

Two female lion cubs discovered aboard a ship in Mogadishu and cared for by foreign contractors in the war-torn city are soon to escape Somalia for the safety of a nature sanctuary.

Grumpy and Scar, as they have been nicknamed, were found and confiscated by port authorities in late February.

It is believed the cubs were bound for the home of a wealthy exotic pet owner in the Arabian Gulf, and their discovery sheds light on the hidden trade in smuggled wildlife out of Somalia’s anarchic lands.

“Smuggling animals has been a problem since the fall of the Somali state,” said Dr Osman Gedow Amir, chairman of the Somali Organic Agriculture Development Organisation.

The German-trained biogeographer may well be the only man to attempt the near-impossible task of determining exactly how much damage 20 years of war has done to Somalia’s flora and fauna.

“My studies have found smuggling in each region of Somalia, with demand coming from the Gulf States and the Far East,” he said, referring to a paper submitted to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2006.

Mr Amir estimated that at current prices each cub could be worth about £600, and warned that the business of wildlife smuggling was decimating populations and could lead to the local disappearance of some endemic species “To have wildlife protection you need a state and law enforcement, without that you can do nothing,” he said.

Somalia has neither, which makes Grumpy and Scar all the luckier and their tale all the more uplifting.

With their outsized paws, furry ears and dark-spotted tummies and legs they have become something of an attraction at the camp run by Bancroft Global Development close to the airport in Mogadishu.

Their 58m sq (25ft x 25ft) enclosure in a copse of shady acacia trees is surrounded by a steel mesh usually used in blast-proof walls; a wooden dog kennel in the corner protects them from occasional tropical downpours.

Their keeper, who did not want to be named, is a South African dog handler. His hands and forearms are covered in nicks and scratches from when the lions get cross or just overly exuberant in their play.

“They just fell into our hands,” he told The Times. “No one else had the capacity to look after them so we took them on. We’ve been muddling through feeding them and giving antibiotics to keep them healthy. It’s not the same thing: looking after dogs and cats.”

When they first arrived the cubs were as small as kittens and fed on a mixture of eggs, meat and milk. They have grown fast and now eat a whole goat every few days.

Recently a vet was flown in from Uganda to give the animals a medical check-up, take blood samples, give vaccinations and microchip them in preparation for their expected “export” to a safer place, most likely an animal sanctuary in Kenya or South Africa, in the coming weeks.

“We’ll miss them,” said another Bancroft contractor, who had stepped out of his air-conditioned shipping container a few metres away to snap a few photos of the lions pacing their enclosure.