By Susie Boniface, sundaymirror.co.uk 30/11/2008
Animal lovers have launched a race against time to save the sight of Bella the lioness – and give her a new life.
Three lions who shared her prison in a decaying Romanian zoo were rescued last year and taken to a wildlife sanctuary. Tragically, seven-year-old Bella had to stay behind because she was virtually blind.
Now the animal charity Born Free is hoping to raise £22,000 to pay for an operation to remove the cataract in her remaining eye and fly her to Africa.
Space has been found for her there at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi. But Bella’s sight has to be saved first if she is to have any hope of settling into her new home or finding a mate.
British vet John Knight said: “Despite everything life has thrown at her Bella is remarkably calm and has adapted to everything. I’m sure she will do well if she gets a new home in Africa.”
Little is known about Bella before Born Free found her in Buhusi Zoo in East Romania. As a cub she is thought to have been used as a tourist photographer’s prop on the Black Sea coast.
Kept on a chain, she was reared on cow’s milk which didn’t give her enough proteins or vitamins, so her knees became malformed and her spine was damaged. An eye also became infected.
Once she became too big Bella was dumped at the zoo. John was appalled when he first saw her condition. Blind in one eye and barely able to see out of the other, lonely Bella stumbled around her dirty pen, soaked in her own stale urine.
“She was actually locked up for the whole winter in an indoor shed without fresh air or much light,” he said. “The stench of urine was so bad it burned my eyes and made them weep.”
Together with ophthalmic vet David Donaldson, John operated to remove Bella’s damaged eye. “During the operation we discovered she had a cataract in her other eye, which means the only sight she has is like looking through smoked glass,” he said. “That will only get worse if it is not removed.”
Born Free has now moved Bella to Brasov Zoo, one of the best in Romania, but she can only stay there for a couple of months.
“If we can raise the money I’m sure Bella will do well in Africa,” said John. “After all she’s been through, we owe it to her to do our best for her.”
To help Bella call the Born Free hotline on 0870 777 4321, go to www.bornfree.org.uk.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org