9 min read

No One Can Believe Where This Sad Lion Is Being Kept

She's in the middle of a restaurant.

A captive lion scurries down a small, narrow corridor of a glass cage in the middle of a busy café, chasing a little girl as she runs along the length of the cage. In a video of the incident, the little girl giggles with delight, then, presumably, goes back to her parents. But the lion, who looks very frustrated to be confined in a small space, has nowhere else to go.

In another video, the lion, named Khaleesi, is shown to still be pacing back and forth in the same glass cage after the café (which also operates as a hookah bar) has closed.

These videos were recently posted on the Instagram account of the café, Mevzoo, which is located in Istanbul, Turkey — and the footage has angered animal lovers around the world.

“I thought the video of the lion confined behind the Plexiglas was just appalling, and certainly no place for a lion — lions belong in the wild, not in captivity,” DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), told The Dodo. “The fact that people ... find it entertaining to eat while a wild animal is suffering is just really disturbing to me. It’s bad enough for lions to be kept in captivity at all, but put them in a captive environment like this, where they’re a plaything for people to gawk at while they eat is just very disturbing, and it’s very unfortunate that it’s allowed in Turkey or frankly anywhere in the world.”

An information panel next to Khaleesi’s cage claims that she was “rescued” from a zoo after being abandoned by her parents, and hand-raised by the owner of the restaurant. Even if Khaleesi did grow up in captivity, she still needs to be treated like a wild lion, according to Prashant Khetan, chief executive officer for Born Free USA.

“They sit and sleep for large parts of the days, and I’m wondering how that’s happening here,” Khetan said. “When you look at this enclosure that this particular lion is in, you can see that she can barely turn around … and she’s essentially just walking in what looks to be a U-shape enclosure. There’s no ability to move within the confines of that glass, which is going to have long-term physical problems … because their muscles are not going to get exercised the way that they should. It’s going to result in long-term psychological problems because you can just imagine that lions are not that different than any other being.”

The sign next to Khaleesi's enclosure | Instagram/Mevzoo

Khetan also finds it worrying that Khaleesi is chasing the little girl, whom she might view as prey. While the little girl herself doesn’t appear to be in any danger, Khetan fears the lion could come to see humans a food, and this could have disastrous results for the lion’s handler.

Mevzoo reportedly has a license from the Turkish government to operate as a tourism-related zoo and animal rehabilitation center, and displays several other animals, including horses, crocodiles, parrots, flamingos, snakes and an iguana. Yet Khetan doesn’t believe that Mevzoo qualifies as a zoo.

“This is not a zoo by any standards,” Khetan said. “I know they’ve gotten a license from the Turkish government to do it, but I suspect that license will get revoked at some point.”

“Like any place where animals are used in entertainment, this place has a lot of those same issues, but to me, this place is significantly worse because of the manner in which she’s being kept,” Khetan added. “It’s very inhumane. She is purely being used to entertain people while they eat and drink and are using hookah.”

Since the circulation of the videos, the Turkish Ministry of Forest and Water Management has investigated the café and asked the owner to dismantle the glass corridor, according to a news source. Another report claims the café has been shut down for three months, although the owner has been allowed to keep the animals.

While this is progress, Schubert hopes that the café shuts down for good, and the lion and other animals are moved to credible sanctuaries.

“If this restaurant suddenly stopped getting business because of the way they treat this lion, I’m quite sure that this lion would be sent elsewhere very quickly … and obviously, if that happened, I would hope that the lion would be sent to an appropriate sanctuary … because that’s what this lion deserves,” he said.

“I would encourage [people] ... to think twice about taking their business to places that exploit animals, whether it’s in Turkey or the United States or anywhere else around the world,” Schubert added. “It they walk into a restaurant or shopping mall, and they see a wild animal in a cage or being mistreated, they should take their business elsewhere. That’s one way that the everyday person can make a difference.”

To help Khaleesi and the other animals at Mevzoo, you can contact your local Turkish embassy or consulate and politely express your dissatisfaction with this facility. You can also help by signing this petition.