Cambodian authorities have seized an 18-month-old lion from a villa in the capital Phnom Penh, where it was kept for months as a pet and appeared in videos on TikTok.
The male lion became the subject of huge interest on social media, where it had been spotted in videos as a cub, being cuddled by humans and bathed with a hose.
Cambodian environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told VICE World News that the lion had been moved to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center and that investigations had been ongoing since April.
“People have no right to raise rare wildlife as pets,” Pheaktra said in a message on WhatsApp Monday, a day after news of the operation broke.
“Cambodia is a transit country for wildlife trafficking. We have been actively involved in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking and are committed to preventing and combating the illegal trade.”
The male lion was confiscated by Cambodian authorities from a private residence in Phnom Penh. Photo: CAMBODIA MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT / AFP
Wildlife Alliance, the animal rescue organization that assisted authorities with the investigation, said the lion’s canine teeth and its claws had been removed, “which drastically reduces a lion’s quality of life.”
“The conditions at a residential home are inappropriate for a wild animal,” it said on Facebook, adding that the animal weighed 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds. Full grown lions typically weigh in at around 420 pounds, according to experts.
Wildlife trafficking remains a problem in Cambodia despite the trade being illegal. While recent reports suggest it has decreased in Southeast Asia due to pandemic restrictions, activity continues to proliferate on social media platforms. Lax enforcement and corruption have also fueled the lucrative trade in illicit wildlife across the region, according to monitors.
New photos of the lion began circulating on Twitter over the weekend.
The lion’s owner, identified as a Chinese businessman, was said to have imported the animal and had intended to raise it in his home. Authorities have not said whether the owner will face any legal action.
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