Meet lonely hearts Iron and Bumba

Lions are the most social of all the cat species, they need the companionship of their own kind. So last year when Bumba and Iron lost their lifelong friends Zeus and OJ (Ojiclaro) it was a devastating blow. We are now working to bring these two warriors together at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary.

The pictures of Iron and OJ in their circus cage in Colombia were heart-breaking, two magnificent lions seemingly broken. Zeus and Bumba were in a similar state in the adjoining cage on the same truck. But all of them survived and when ADI removed them from the circus in 2014, we began to see their true characters come out. Zeus and OJ were always like the older brothers, watching over Bumba and Iron respectively, and they were always at each other’s side. We have little doubt that their strong bonds helped these animals survive the desperate life in the circus.

Sadly, as ADI supporters know, the lifelong deprivation in the circus, no space to run, malnutrition and abuse, can take a terrible toll. OJ developed cancer. He rallied after chemotherapy but only long enough to come home for a few more weeks in the African sunshine with his friend Iron before the cancer returned. Zeus battled neurodegenerative disease also a result of circus abuse, and after more than a year of successful treatment by Dr Caldwell giving him a quality life, he finally succumbed, in late 2021. This left Iron and Bumba alone.

Now, we hope to bring these two, rescued from the same circus and so alike In many ways, together for companionship in their senior years.

Bringing two adult male lions together is perhaps the most challenging of ADI’s Operation Lonely Hearts projects. Iron is 17 years old and Bumba 11. We must proceed with caution. Jessica Burkhart of Minnesota University has begun working with the boys separately, gaining their trust, observing their behaviour and using a natural hormone to help the process – this is the hormone the lions release when you see them rubbing heads together.

Currently the boys are living in separate habitats next door to each other (Sam&Eric and Antonia). They are now being attracted over to the fence to check each other out, across the 5m grass road between their habitats. In the coming weeks we will explore moving them between each other’s habitats and seeing how they react. Eventually, we will start the introduction process by bringing them together in one of the habitats, so that neither lion feels their territory must be defended.

This process can take weeks or even months. We want to give the boys as much chance as possible make this a success, so that they have companionship for the rest of their lives.

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