A LION cub who was found by police has needed surgery to remove both eyes after being forcefully transported on long distance bus journey.
The cub was discovered in Russia, placed in a narrow wooden box in the luggage compartment of an inter city bus on a 1,200-mile route from Makhachkala to Moscow.
The cub named Grom highlights the sinister illegal trade in wild animals for pets of wealthy people.
The baby, just a few weeks old, had no food or water and vets believe he was removed from his mother before even suckling her milk.
Initially the cub was handed to a circus in Volgograd where police had found the lion during a search of the bus.
Then an examination by a vet found cataract in his eyes, but surgery was delayed due to inflammation.
When an operation finally went ahead in September it was believed to have been successful and Grom – meaning Thunder – went back to Dovgalyuk circus.
But owner Nikolay Dovgalyuk said: “The disease progressed rapidly. Grom poked at the walls, and was angry he couldn’t understand what was happening to him.”
Further complex surgery failed to save the cubs eyes when Groms corneas ruptured, said Galina Alikova, head of the regional veterinary committee.
“We were immediately warned that both eyes would have to be removed,” she said.
“Grom is now completely blind. But we really went through all the possible options. It was about saving his life.”
New pictures show the eyeless lion playing with a ball, but there are questions over his future.
Police have been unable to establish who sent Grom on the cruel bus journey.
Nor have they found who was the protective buyer, but experts have drawn attention to a smuggling route for exotic pets from Dagestan region on the Caspian Sea, where Makhachkala is the capital.
An employee of the police canine service said: “It’s scary to think, but in such conditions, he might not have made it to Moscow – without food and water.
“In the box itself, there were absolutely unsanitary conditions.”
Famous Russian animal surgeon Karen Dallakyan has previously warned Vladimir Putin about the lack of criminal sanctions against animal smugglers.
He had offered to care for Grom early on in the saga, but officials declined to send him the cub.
He claimed the lion’s sight could have been saved if Volgograd officials had acted sooner, and that passing the animal to a circus was the wrong move after its discovery.
He said: “This blind lion, with no eyes – we will try to find a way to help him.
“And let the rest will remain on the conscience of those who are guilty in what happened to the lion.”
“Everything comes back like a boomerang, because the animal did not deserve it.
“He had already been saved from the hands of those flayers (who transported him on the bus), so he would enjoy life.
“But how will he now enjoy life being blind, I do not know?”