Juno the lioness is at the dentist. Dr Vin Ramlaul of the Twenty Four Hour vet is crouched in our hospital pen, wielding a hammer and chisel that look like smaller, cleaner versions of the ones in our tool box, removing Juno’s broken canine. The whole root was exposed and the canine snapped in half - Juno has been in terrible pain for a long time. The only way for her to get nourishment was to lick off tiny fragments of meat with her rough tongue and her poor condition is testimony to her struggle to eat. The Sanctuary staff huddle round like anxious parents, everyone tense and silent as the clock ticks and the anaesthetic is topped up drop by meticulous drop At last the massive tooth and its huge root are out – the metallic smell of blood is thick in the hot October air as we wash Juno’s thin brown fur and sponge her face after a long and traumatic, but successful operation.
The fur is rubbed off round her mouth from where she has pawed endlessly at the persistent pain caused by her broken tooth, and the tattered stump of an ear, another broken canine and other scars are testament to Juno’s battle to survive amidst the many lions in her former home. She walks with a pronounced lurching limp – an old injury to her hip or pelvis that has healed wrong.
Juno arrived at the Sanctuary a week ago, together with Amber who is an astonishingly pretty lioness with thick blonde fur and mesmerising eyes. Kadiki, a neighbouring lioness who rules the Sanctuary with her great good looks and charismatic personality, will not be pleased at such a beautiful addition. Kadiki has perfected the insouciant, sway-hipped stroll and heavy-lidded languor of a catwalk model, and is as competitive and mendacious as any beauty queen could be. She likes to lord it over plump, ponderous Elsie – our senior lioness, and adorable, clumsy Johanna with her astonishingly big ears and damaged hind leg and little, submissive Kimberly. Amber might not be quite so easy to dismiss.
Amber had lived as a single lioness in an enclosure with two aggressive males. Ten days after arriving at the Sanctuary she is still exhibiting the deeply distressing stereotypic behaviour of a traumatised animal, pacing endlessly along the fence line. Back and forth, back and forth, over and over again. Her eyes don’t see anything, she is panting and covered in dust and her paws are swollen. We tranquilise her and cover the sides of her enclosure with tarpaulins and she seems calmer although there is a startling and swift aggression always lurking just below the surface and she will fly ferociously at the fence, snarling and grunting with rage for no apparent reason. The appearance of dinner and little treats throughout the day calms her – she eats with patent relish, giving soft exclamations of pleasure as she tucks in.
It was thought that Amber was pregnant, but to our great relief she is not. With eleven lions now in our care the thought of cubs to contend with was daunting to say the least.
The Bally Vaughan Animal Sanctuary has a No Breeding policy for our lions and other wildlife. With most of our animals rescued from breeders, the sad state of these animals when they arrive strengthens our commitment to this policy each time.
The rescue of Juno and Amber has been one of the most challenging to date. We have rescued animals in worse physical condition, and we were pleased to see that the facility they were taken from has improved the living conditions of their lions, but the incomprehensible and unwarranted harassment we experienced during this legitimate and legal exercise has shocked us all. In spite of this, we remain committed to providing a safe haven for wild animals in need.
Nduna the lion continues to make slow progress in his battle to walk again after an injury. Watching him doing his stiff-legged, determined shuffle, tail swinging, face creased in concentration makes our hearts swell with love and pride for this exceptional lion who has been so very brave and dignified in the face of such adversity. Last night he even ran, his face alight with pleasure at the prospect of an unexpected treat (donated mutton) and we all clapped in delight as he lifted his great head, dinner dangling from his jaws and triumph all over his beautiful face.
He has become completely mute again – when we first rescued him he didn’t make a sound for a year, and now he is aware that once again, he is at a disadvantage to the other lions. When they roar, he closes his eyes tight and buries his head between his huge paws, or puts one of the go-kart tyres he loves to play with over his face to hide the fact that he is not joining in. To see his confidence so shattered is heart-breaking. Those wonderful words from the novel “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett come into my mind and I want to hug him and tell him, “You are kind. You are smart. You are IMPORTANT”.
Every now and again my husband, who is also the Sanctuary vet, has a rush of blood to the head and screams, “No more lions!” after yet another leonine drama – emotional, surgical or otherwise. After a phone call from a breeder to say that one of his lionesses had escaped and was up a tree and would we like her, his response was apoplectic. Even the brilliant suggestion that having twelve lions would mean a different furry face on each page of our Bally Vaughan calendars didn’t sway him. Fortunately the lioness was safely returned to her home and became a moot point.... for now.
We would like to thank the ZNSPCA for their support of the rescue of Juno and Amber (or Fluffy as she has become known...) Thanks to the Twenty Four Hour Veterinary Surgery, Kat Biljisma and Cool Galah – Australia, Aware Trust vets Keith Dutlow and Eric Mutizhe, and Dr Tapiwa Hanyire of the Wildlife Unit, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Sandie and Chalkie van Schalkwyk, Wendy Robinson, Joe Leese, Sharon Nicholls and Di Fynn, Enid Graves, Radiator Services, Rose and Rogan Maclean, Russell Cocksedge, Jem and Sue Cullen, the Book Borrowers and Karen Bean, Sylvia Carter, Tasha Henning and Rani Maven – our Australian volunteers, the organisers of the St John’s Fair for donating a stand to us to raise money for the lions, and to everyone who supported us at the fair, Trinity Ncube, Bev Lawes, Carole Graham, Anton Newall for loan of transport crates, Mike Wedlock and Lorraine Thomas, Vera Taylor, Anoop Patel, Ashley-Kate Davidson, Trudy Cashel, the Tikki Hywood Trust, Mrs Khumalo, Dhumile Meats, the Bean Family, Food Lovers’ Market, Koala Park, Mr Musango, Montana Meats and Les Duncan and Steph Watson, Karen and Stacey Gent.
Photographs documenting the rescue of Juno and Fluffy are on our facebook page. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0772 436 239 if you can help in any way with our Rescue and Rehabilitation programme. We are desperately in need of cement, nails, tying wire and fencing wire, metal or gum poles, hay, any dry food (dog food, cat biscuits, stock feed, chicken feed, parrot seed etc). The number of animals in our care is growing all the time and we are truly grateful for any assistance whatsoever.
With love and thanks
Sarah and all at the Sanctuary
THE BALLY VAUGHAN SANCTUARY
Tel: 263 772 592 944 or 263 733 436 239