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Foots Cray Lions Junior Football Club take on lion at Big Cat Sanctuary, Smarden

By Rachael Woods

A football team and an African lion came face to face in a tug of war.

The Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden was the setting for the battle between man and beast that was staged to raise awareness of World Lion Day, which is today.

Youngsters from Foots Cray Lions Junior Football Club faced an opponent with a difference when they took on the king of the jungle in the shape of Kasanga the African lion. 

 Video: Tug of war... with bite!

A piece of meat was tied to a rope that was threaded through the fence of Kasanga’s enclosure and when he took the meat between his jaws, the boys began pulling it away.

The Big Cat Sanctuary is an education and breeding centre for endangered cats, big and small.

African lion Kasanga holds on to his dinner in the tug of war

African lion Kasanga holds on to his dinner in the tug of war

In the past two decades the population of wild African lions has dropped by more than 40% leaving an estimated 20,000-25,000 remaining in the wild, with lions also listed as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in 2015.

Big Cat Sanctuary managing director Giles Clark leads the tug of war with Foots Cray Lions against African lion Kasanga

Big Cat Sanctuary managing director Giles Clark leads the tug of war with Foots Cray Lions against African lion Kasanga

Private big cat experiences are offered at the sanctuary to support its work, helping to raise funds for projects including one to airlift temporary resident Kasanga, originally a circus lion, to a new home in Uganda at the cost of £16,000.

The sanctuary’s work extends to sponsoring two lions at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya to be fitted with radio collars and specialised trackers to monitor them and find solutions to the challenges they face in the wild.

Giles Clark, managing director of The Big Cat Sanctuary, said that without conservation efforts, an Africa without lions could be the reality for future generations.

Game over as boys from Foots Cray Lions meet opponent Kasanga

Game over as boys from Foots Cray Lions meet opponent Kasanga

Tanith Brown, spokesman for the Big Cat Sanctuary said: “The tug of war was great fun as Kasanga is so powerful he used his sheer body weight to lean backwards and hold onto the meat.

“Boys in the team appreciated how huge and powerful a lion is and it was a good enrichment exercise for Kasanga who has an awesome personality.

“A truce was called and the game ended as it was dinner time for Kasanga but everyone had great fun.”

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