The five week-old cub, kept on a balcony, was smuggled into Lebanon before ending up as a private pet. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Dubai: A lion cub being kept in Beirut was rescued by Animals Lebanon and will soon be sent to a sanctuary in South Africa.

The five week-old cub, kept on a balcony, was smuggled into Lebanon before ending up as a private pet. "The keeping of lions as pets has drastically increased in the last two years, and we regularly receive reports about new cubs," said Lana Al Khalil, President of Animals Lebanon.

"Within the first couple months of life a lion becomes too large and strong to be kept in a house, only to end up locked in a backyard cage or sold to a private zoo," Al Khalil said. 

"Animals Lebanon has uncovered zoos in Syria offering new born lion cubs for $350 each, and workers offered to advise on how best to bring a lion to Lebanon," Al Khalil said.

"One zoo owner in Lebanon reported bringing in eight lions from Syria, and admitted that they all died within weeks as they were too young. Lebanon has not yet joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and a wide range of other endangered animals are smuggled into the country and kept as pets or in private zoos.

Lions are a CITES-listed animals and the international trade should be regulated.

Lion populations in Africa have dropped significantly in recent decades due to loss of habitat, hunting, poisoning and other factors. "The Lebanese government has expressed its intention to have Lebanon join CITES, and we understand that this process is moving forward," said Al Khalil. "There are currently 175 member countries, and we are hopeful that next year Lebanon will be number 176. We are able to help this lion because the owners are cooperative, but we must prevent these animals from ever entering Lebanon and ending up in these conditions and joining CITES can significantly help."

Once all of the permits are issued the cub will be flown to the Drakenstein Lion Park in South Africa, which cares for dozens of rescued lions and agreed to provide lifetime care for this cub.