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IT'S a pitiful sound...and an even more pitiful sight. Fidelius the lion lets out a roar that hardly reaches beyond the bars of his bare kennel.

And that's exactly what it is - a glorified kennel. Not a home for the King of the Jungle, but a cage in the dog pound in Malaga, on Spain's Costa del Sol.

Cage 62 is just 20ft by 9ft. There is no shade from the blazing sun, no straw to sleep on, and Fidelius' pathetic growl is drowned out by the demented barking of other dogs in the pound. His mane is matted, his paws red-raw from pacing up and down, and his teeth - many of them broken or missing - are the colour of nicotine.

The highlight of Fidelius' day is at 2pm when his keeper throws him his only food...two chickens.

Almost 20 years of solitary confinement have reduced this king of beasts to a stinking pile of skin and bones.

Fidelius, whose name in Spanish means The Loyal One, is the victim of the once lucrative beach photography business.

Lion and tiger cubs and baby chimps were used as cuddly props to persuade holidaymakers to have their pictures taken.

The cruel trade was banned, and Fidelius was rescued by Malaga's police department, only to be condemned to this terrible fate.

Francisco Cuesta, who has looked after the lion for the last 15 years, peers into the cage and hisses at Fidelius.

"Fidi's getting fussy in his old age," says Francisco. "He won't eat the chickens if they are not plucked or still have their heads on.

"He'd never survive in the wild. He's lost his hunting instincts."

The only excitement there has ever been in his miserable life was when he managed to mate through the bars with a young tigress. Her two crossbred cubs died.

After that the bars between the cages were cemented over, and animals in the surrounding cages dispatched to zoos around Spain.

And Fidelius was condemned to a life of total solitude.

Jonathan Owen of The World Society for the Protection of Wildlife (WSPA) visited Fidelius a year ago and asked the authorities if they could move him.

"I've even seen people at the dogs' home taunting the lion by hosing him with water. Something has to be done," said Jonathan.

The WSPA are still waiting for a reply from Malaga Council.

Fidelius' keepers aren't without sympathy, but they feel it's already too late. "It's amazing he has survived so long," says Felix Arroyo, the Spanish vet who gives Fidelius a rare check-up.

"There's no point in trying to move him. He wouldn't even survive the anaesthetic.

"Perhaps the humane thing to do would be to put him down, but after all this time that seems an unkind end - almost murder."

A spokeswoman for Malaga's mayoress, Celia Villalobos, said: "We are all aware of Fidelius' sorry situation.

"He's paying the price of cruelty. Let's hope he dies in his sleep."
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bowden, Nigel
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 8, 1998
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