Belfast's Lily the Lion to meet her Czech mate
Belfast's most famous big cat - Lily the rare hand-reared Barbary lion - has left the city for an assignation in eastern Europe, it was announced today.
The two-year-old is on her way to a new life in the Hodonin Zoo in the Czech Republic and a date with four-year-old Simon with whom it is hoped she will eventually mate.
Barbary lions are extinct in the wild and there are less than 100 in captivity around the world, under 40 in Europe.
Lily rose to stardom soon after her birth in 2007 when she was rejected by her mother and hand-reared by zoo keeper Linda Frew in her family home.
Ms Frew was sad to see her charge leave, but said: "The time has come for her departure and my job is done. I feel proud that I have helped Lily for a short part of her life.
"I hope she will enjoy her new surroundings and settle with Simon and the other lions at Hodonin Zoo."
Lily is taking a two-day road trip to her new home. Zoo keepers from the Czech zoo arrived in Belfast last night and picked her up in a specially adapted lion-friendly transport box.
A ferry to Scotland, drive down to the Channel Tunnel and then 10 hours across Europe to Hodonin was the chosen route, all overseen by a zoo vet.
Lily left behind parents Fidda and Qays and brother Charlie in Belfast - another Czech zoo, Olomouc, took delivery of second brother Boris in July.
Simon's sister Buzetta will be meeting up with Boris as part of the lion dating game.