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Lion and cheetah die at Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden near Ashford

A wildlife park in Kent says it is "devastated" following the death of two of its cats.

The Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden, near Ashford, revealed it had been forced to put down Kafara the lion and Martin the cheetah last Friday, following battles with health conditions.

Kafara the lion and Martin the cheetah have both had to be put to sleep. All photos: Big Cat Sanctuary
Kafara the lion and Martin the cheetah have both had to be put to sleep. All photos: Big Cat Sanctuary

Both animals were suffering from chronic health conditions, and a park spokesman said the decision was made as "keepers were no longer able to provide a high enough quality of life for either of our boys".

Kafara died aged 17, having arrived at the park as an adolescent with his two brothers, Manzi – who tragically passed away around a year ago – and Tiny.

Keepers described the African lion, who was the leader of the pride of three, as "a kind and gentle soul", despite his impressive size and weight of 220kgs.

"Kafara was often happy to come to his keepers for a quick scratch behind the ear and a chat," the park's spokesman continued, "and towards the ned of his life he enjoyed taking life in the slow lane.

"The sight of this lazy boy, dozing in the heat, his gorgeous tan coloured fur with a dark and extensive mane over his huge head and an enormous paw rested gently on the windowsill was overwhelming to many.

Kafara (r), seen here with his brother Tiny, died aged 17
Kafara (r), seen here with his brother Tiny, died aged 17

"The only thing which could beat it was hearing his incredible, loud roar. Enough to make the ground vibrate, let alone a person’s chest should they be lucky enough to be standing in front of him.

"He and Tiny would often time the roaring perfectly as guests were coming back to their lodges at the end of the tour."

Similarly to Kafara, Martin the cheetah also arrived at the park with his two brothers, Keene and Bajrami, both of whom are still at the park.

While also being the largest of the three, and being taller and longer, Martin was less confident than his brothers and keepers had to work a little harder to earn his trust.

However, they described the rewards of earning that trust as "endless".

Martin the cheetah died aged 10
Martin the cheetah died aged 10

"He was engaged and intelligent in training sessions and an absolute hero on experiences," they explained, "with his beautiful tilted head paying immaculate attention to keepers while adoring guests could take his picture all they liked.

"Any attempts to get him or his brothers up and active often fell flat, and the inclusion of footballs, remote controlled cars and even lures designed to get them stretching their legs were often met with looks of confusion, bordering on pity for the keepers trying to encourage a run.

"Nope, Martin had his life under control and why would he run if he didn’t need to?"

The sanctuary says its team will concentrate on caring for both animals' brothers, but are facing financial worries due to the pandemic.

A spokesman said: "At this testing time we are unable to run our usual experiences and overnight stay,s and so are relying on donations and fundraising to raise the £3000 a day needed to give care, shelter and food for these amazing animals.

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Escaped animals, unusual finds and news from the RSPCA can all be found here.

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