A smashed and declawed lion that was kept in an upscale neighborhood of the Cambodian capital was returned to its owner after the unlikely intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The 18-month-old, weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds), had been imported from overseas, officials said. He was brought up by his owner, a Chinese national, who named him Hima.
Authorities learned of the unlikely animal after seeing TikTok videos of Hima playing in a villa in Phnom Penh. The lion was confiscated on June 27 and taken to a wildlife rescue center.
Wildlife Alliance, an animal rescue NGO that participated in the raid last week, said a private residence was “inappropriate” for a wild animal. Days later, a video of lion owner Qi Xiao visiting Hima in the center went viral.
In the video, Hima continued to nudge Qi as he fed her meat, an apparently affectionate behavior that sparked calls on social media for them to be reunited.
On Sunday evening, Hun Sen announced on his official Facebook page that Qi could recover his lion provided he “builds an appropriate cage for the safety of people in the house and neighbors.” He also ordered the authorities to refund any fines paid by the owner.
Qi thanked the Prime Minister in a comment on the post and also expressed his gratitude to the “Cambodian people for helping and supporting our Hima”.
“Finally, I wish Cambodia and China to remain strong friends forever,” he wrote.
The lion was transported to Qi’s villa on Monday afternoon.
“I feel very happy, very touched… I did not expect to get it back,” Qi told reporters as the lion and his dog strolled in his background.
Cambodian authorities declined to comment on the amount of the fine imposed on the owner or what prompted the change of legal opinion. Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the world’s oldest leaders, is a staunch ally of Beijing, and Cambodia receives billions of dollars in low-interest loans and investments from China.