Ruben, the loneliest lion in the world, has taken his first steps towards a new and healthier life.

Ruben was the last animal left at zoo on the Armenian-Azerbaijan border that closed down when its Russian oligarch owner died.

The lion had been kept in isolation in a small cage for the last five years and it has been so long since he has had the company of other lions he has almost forgotten how to roar, just letting out an occasional plaintive cry.

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Jan Creamer, from animal charity ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, explained that all of the other animals from the zoo had been saved after the owner died.

"Sadly, there was no room for Ruben," she said. "Lions live in family groups and roaring is chatting to them. He is still trying to roar. Ruben has never felt the sun on his back or the wind in his face."

Ruben is around 15 years old, and neglect has left him in poor condition with matted hair, damaged teeth and a suspected neurological condition.

Now that the zoo is finally closed, the former owner’s family were happy for Ruben to be rescued but the operation to move him had to be kept secret from anyone else and carefully planned to avoid inflaming tensions in the area which have been heightened by the war in Ukraine.

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Jan said: “It is vital we get Ruben to South Africa as soon as possible to address his more serious issues.

“Ruben has neurological problems, potentially spinal. He wobbles as he walks and sometimes his legs fold under him, but he can move around.

“He has miosis of the eye – supporters will have noticed his small, constricted pupils. He appears able to see things, reacts to people around him, even some distance away, and good hearing, so there is good news, too.

“Ruben will not have access to the technology to properly identify these issues (CT, MRI scans, specialist ophthalmologists) until we get to South Africa. So, we are pressing ahead with the export and import protocols required, as quickly as possible."

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Veterinary specialist Peter Caldwell is reviewing Ruben’s latest blood tests and will establish a regime to prepare him for his journey to a permanent home in South Africa, and give him any necessary pain relief.

Reuben is expected to make his epic journey to South Africa in March. He has already been microchipped and given the required vaccinations for international travel.

At the sanctuary, Ruben will have a habitat with multiple sections so that he can steadily be given access to more space as his movement improves.

If you’d like to help fund ADI’s work for Reuben, and animals like him, you can find their website here.

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