“Watch the beautiful lion cubs thrive in the sanctuary after escaping a cruel fate at the Theme Park”

The pair are recovering in the South Africa sun after they were nursed back to health at a rescue centre in Madrid

Recovering: Cubs in Madrid rescue centre

Lion cubs George and Yame laze in the sun and recover…after facing death as tourist playthings.

The five-month-olds were kept half-starved and used as a photo opportunity at a theme park in southern Spain.

But the slowly dying cubs were taken to a rescue centre in Madrid and nursed back to health after British animal lovers spearheaded a global Facebook campaign to save them.

They are now starting a new life after being flown to a sanctuary in Gauteng, South Africa.

Tender moment: George gets a cuddle ( North Down)The cubs had been sold without permits to a Spanish woman by a French travelling-circus owner. She charged tourists 10 euros to pose with them at Terra Mitica Park, Alicante.

To keep them small and easy for tourists to handle, it is claimed she fed them just watered down milk to stunt their growth.

One shocked visitor Rosemary Mathews from Elstead, Surrey, said: “The cubs looked really sad and shabby, they shouldn’t be used like that, it’s so cruel.”

American CJ Munoz and her Spanish husband Luis nursed George and Yame back to health.

Fur deal at last: CJ and Yame ( North Downs)She said: “We received the lions in July. They were only two months old. We had got word of the lions being at the amusement park.”

Spanish police officers impounded the lions before they were handed to CJ and Luis.

Mrs Munoz said the woman who arranged to bring the cubs to the park did not have papers to prove they were born in captivity in Europe so they were taken off her.

In a mess: Underweight cub Yame ( North Downs picture)CJ said: “These cubs were dying. After the rescue, we went to see them in a sanctuary in Alicante. Their condition was terrible.

“They were worn out and only being kept alive on watered-down milk. That was all they had; it meant they would never be able to grow normally.

“They had bone disease with legs were like rubber; they couldn’t walk far. They were full of infections and had cataracts.”

Painful: George’s infected legShe added: “We didn’t think the smallest one, George, was going to make it. For a while we thought he would have to be put down humanely.

“Because he showed such courage and tenacity, we thought, ‘This little guy deserves a chance’.”

The cubs arrived in South Africa on Friday.

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