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WARNING: CONTAINS DISTRESSING CONTENT
A lion cub had its legs deliberately broken so that it could not run away from tourists in Russia, with distressing video footage showing the condition the animal was in before it was given surgery, along with the painful process of learning to walk again afterwards.
The lion, dubbed Simba, was just a few weeks old when he was taken from his mother, before being used as a photograph opportunity on Russian beaches, for tourists to take selfies with.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was so shocked by the story that he ordered a criminal probe into what happened.
The lion's legs had been broken as he got older so that he could not run away, with reports saying he became ill and was 'tortured and beaten' by his minders - who injured his spine and left him on the verge of death, dumping him tethered in a cold barn in the Russian region of Dagestan.
Yulia Ageeva, who led the rescue mission, said: "He was practically not fed, and for some reason in the frost water was constantly poured over him.
"This was a real hell."
Thankfully rescuers were able to save Simba from the cruel nightmare, and he was flown to specialist vet Karen Dallakyan for treatment.
Dallakyan, from Chelyabinsk, said Simba had suffered 'an ocean of pain from humans'.
He added: "Evil photographers break bones like this so that wild predators cannot escape and behave calmly for pictures [with tourists]."
Dallakyan operated on Simba, who had also suffered pressure sores, intestinal obstructions and atrophy of the muscles of the back limbs.
While Simba is now able to walk again, he is permanently deformed.
Dallakyan told Russian President Vladimir Putin about what Simba had been through in a lockdown video conference with ecologists, saying: "We do not see any criminal case opened."
Putin replied: "Thank you. I wrote down what you said."
The president also promised to get law enforcement to act against those involved, with Dallakyan saying a criminal investigation is now underway.
According to reports, the unnamed photographer who worked with Simba last summer in Sochi denied he had tortured the animal, and claimed he had passed the cub on to new owners.
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