A lion cub’s hind legs were deliberately broken by torturers ‘so it could not run away while posing on Russian beaches for photos with holidaymakers’.
Vladimir Putin was so shocked that he personally ordered a criminal probe into the cruelty Simba experienced.
The cub was just a few weeks old when he was snatched from his mother and forced to pose for pictures with tourists.
After being exploited last summer, Simba’s torturers broke his legs to prevent him running away as he grew older and bigger.
Simba’s health rapidly deteriorated as he was ‘tortured and beaten’, suffering severe injuries to his spine that left him close to death, local reports said.
The animal was dumped, starving and hardly able to move, tethered in a dirty, cold barn in the Russian region of Dagestan.
A deeply distressing video shows the helpless animal before life-saving surgery – and afterwards as he slowly and painfully learns again to walk.
A weak and emaciated Simba licks his paw and winces in pain as he struggles to clean himself and holds his clearly distorted hind legs off the floor.
‘He was practically not fed, and for some reason in the frost water was constantly poured over him,’ said Yulia Ageeva, who led a rescue mission to save the cub.
‘This was a real hell.’
Simba also suffered pressure sores, intestinal obstructions, and a wasting of muscle to his hind limbs.
Rescuers flew the cub to specialist vet Karen Dallakyan, who said he had suffered ‘an ocean of pain from humans’.
He said: ‘Evil photographers break bones like this so that wild predators cannot escape and behave calmly for pictures (with tourists).’
The video fades to Simba after surgery as he stumbles forward, encouraged by a human who gently guides his hind legs.
The cub, sporting a shaved coat, staggers outside and tentatively plods around as he learns how to reuse his legs.
At one point the limping lion even manages to break into a gentle jog.
The footage transitions to a clearly much healthier Simba, his luscious coat regrown, as he snuggles up to a giant teddy bear in his cage – a miraculous recovery for a cub who had been so cruelly treated.
Although Simba’s life was saved, he has been left with permanent deformities.
Dallakyan told Putin about the scandal during a lockdown video-conference with ecologists, stressing: ‘We do not see any criminal case opened.’
The Russian president said: ‘Thank you, I wrote down what you said.’
The Kremlin leader promised to get law enforcement to act against the animal torturer and any associates.
Dallakyan, from Chelyabinsk, said that a criminal investigation is now underway.
The unnamed photographer who worked with Simba last summer in Sochi denied that he had tortured the animal, and said he had passed on the cub to new owners.
The vet said the cub’s recovery was a ‘miracle’.