Cambodian authorities have returned a pet lion to its owner after they rescued it from his home nearly a week ago.
The lion had appeared in a TikTok video. A Twitter user had also posted a photo of the lion in the backyard of the owner, Chinese national Qi Xiao, who was illegally raising it at his villa in a posh area in capital Phnom Penh:
With the zoo shut, lions are now working from home as well (this is St 306 in central Phnom Penh) pic.twitter.com/cPSVmiSD83
— Stephen Higgins (@sjhiggins1973) June 26, 2021
The lion was sent to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. Named Hei Man (Dark Mind), the 18-month-old lion weighs 70 kg and eats six kg raw meat a day. The owner had removed its claws and canines.
In an about turn a week later, Cambodian Prime Minister himself announced handing the lion back to Qi Xiao because the lion had been with him since it was a cub and was attached to him. Qi Xiao will now meet certain conditions such as keeping the lion in an appropriate cage and installing CCTV cameras.
According to different reports, popular sentiment on social media was with the lion’s owner as people seemed to believe that the owner would take better care of the lion than the zoo. The owner has posted several photos and videos on his Facebook page showing the lion playing with his pet dog and goat.
However, many criticised the government for returning the lion to the owner. British ambassador Tina Redshaw tweeted: “Disappointed that lion confiscated from city centre residence is being returned, undermining Flag of Cambodia legislation preventing ownership/trade in endangered wildlife, harming global efforts to tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade, to say nothing of stress & suffering of inappropriate captivity.”