The lions, held in cages in a park in the capital of Sudan, limp weakly in the photos and videos circulating on social media. Their bones protrude from their skin. They are clearly malnourished.
The plight of the five starving animals in Al-Qureshi Park in Khartoum has riveted global attention in recent days and drawn an outpouring of efforts to help them. But it has also brought into sharp focus the state of the African nation they call home but that can’t seem to care for them during a crucial transitional period.
The country is in the midst of political and economic turmoil after the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April, following protests prompted by escalating food prices and a cash crisis. Because of the fragile economy, about 9.3 million of the population of 43 million require humanitarian assistance in 2020, according to the United Nations.
But ordinary Sudanese have stepped in to help after the condition of the beasts — a mix of male and female — was first highlighted by Osman Salih, a Sudanese national who on Sunday visited the park, which is run by the Khartoum municipality.
“I was shocked,” Mr. Salih wrote on Facebook, noting the state of “hunger and neglect” in which the lions lived.
Officials did not say why the animals weren’t being fed, but Mr. Salih noted in his post that the authorities had suggested they weren’t able to care for them because of a lack of resources.
Within hours of Mr. Salih’s post, the Sudanese authorities, park officials and local residents responded, providing urgently needed medicine and food. The case was publicized under the hashtag #SudanAnimalRescue.
The response has so far alleviated the lions’ suffering, with some of them responding to medication and finishing meat they were fed. Mr. Salih said in another Facebook post, however, that one of the sick lionesses died on Monday.
Katharina Braun, a spokeswoman for the animal welfare organization Four Paws, which has its headquarters in Vienna, said in a statement that the group was “closely monitoring” the situation and was seeking approval from the national authorities to send in veterinarians and wildlife experts.
There is no available data on the number of lions in Sudan, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists African lions as a “vulnerable” species, with an estimated 20,000 alive today across the continent.
Sudan is in a transitional period after having faced protracted economic decline in recent years, especially after the secession of South Sudan in 2011, which took crucial oil revenues with it. Years of economic mismanagement under Mr. al-Bashir also precipitated an economic crisis in 2018 that featured double-digit inflation growth, a tripling of bread prices and street protests across towns and cities.
In December, Mr. al-Bashir was convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in detention. The Sudanese attorney general also opened investigations into the crimes committed under Mr. al-Bashir’s rule in the western Darfur region, where 300,000 people were killed and some 2.7 million were forced from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Following a landmark power-sharing agreement last August between the military and civilian leaders that aims to oversee elections in three years, the northeast African state is now led by a transitional government. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s administration has undertaken important economic, political and social reforms aimed at opening up the country and fulfilling the demands of pro-democracy protesters.
In December, the Trump administration said it would send an ambassador to Khartoum for the first time in 23 years.
But the United States still keeps Sudan on a list of state sponsors of terrorism — a move that has crippled the economy and made the country ineligible for debt relief and financing from global institutions like the World Bank.
The designation has also affected the relief effort to support the lions, Mr. Salih said. The crowdfunding site GoFundMe suspended a campaign to aid the lions, noting that it was raising funds for a cause in a country still under American sanctions.
GoFundMe did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, and Mr. Salih could not be reached for comment.
In a video posted on Facebook on Tuesday, he said the campaign was looking for “secure” ways to receive funds without “breaking any rules local or international.” Besides praising the global outpouring of support, he commended the Sudanese public for its assistance during times of turmoil.
“It’s really special to see local citizens getting together to help especially in the current climate we are in,” Mr. Salih wrote.
“Sudan is still in recovery mode. We just came out of a revolution. We have a new transitional government. Inflation has hit Sudan really bad. Everything has skyrocketed. Normal people cannot afford to eat these days,” he said. “Despite that, people are coming together and looking for solutions.”