An appeal for the rescue of Bulgaria's last two circus lions was launched by the Born Free Foundation in a bid to secure their relocation to the international wildlife charity's sanctuary at Shamwari, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Jora and Black (due to the latter’s distinguishing black mane) are two seven-year-old lions known to be brothers. These fine-featured animals are caged in a metal beast wagon in the back yard of an ex-circus trainer's remote mountain lodge near the capital, Sofia.

With no readily available water supply or shade, and pending summer temperatures that will turn their barred container into an oven furnace, these magnificent animal’s terrible plight has made international headlines and pulled at the heartstrings of animal lovers around the world.

Born Free’s co-founder and trustee, Virginia McKenna OBE, was deeply concerned and saddened by the circumstances in which Jora and Black were found. She said: “The coming summer will endanger these poor lions and every effort must be made to get them out. It is heart-breaking to see them like this and we are hoping that with public support we can move them to a happy and secure life in the African bush.”

The lions were taken in as small cubs and were part of a traditional circus act travelling Eastern Europe and Turkey. They performed until the end of summer 2014, but due to a government ban that came into force at the beginning of the year, Bulgaria now prohibits the use of wild animals in circuses - a move that has been widely welcomed by animal welfare experts.

Jora and Black's elegant feline features are in stark contrast to the shabby tin can cage that has been their home for many years. With little to no environmental enrichment, and with each cage measuring some 2.5 metres in size, it barely allows them to move around as they stare out and intermittently nuzzle and paw each other.

Dr John Knight, Born Free's Senior Veterinary Consultant added: “Although they appear to be in good health, the conditions in which they live are totally inappropriate. Jora is lame and once he is in our care we will be able to give him the required examinations and treatments.”

Born Free is now actively working with the owners, who are kindly co-operating, to secure Jora and Black's future, and a move to Born Free’s renowned rescue centre at Shamwari, which is already home to a number of lions and leopards rescued from a dire life in captivity.