Tug of war over stolen lion in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - A male lion named Rawell is at the centre of an ownership dispute in Brazil after the creature was abducted from his sanctuary and surfaced later hundreds of kilometers away.

The 300-kg animal was knocked unconscious on Thursday with a tranquiliser dart and spirited away from the Monte Azul Paulista sanctuary in Sao Paulo state, local media reported.

On Saturday, Folha de Sao Paulo and Globo dailies reported on their websites that Rawell was found in a shelter some 500 kilometres away at Maringa, in neighbouring Parana state.

The site belongs to Rawell's former owner, Ary Marcos Borges da Silva.

Oswaldo Garcia, who has cared for the nine-year-old creature for the past five years at Monte Azul, said the day Rawell went missing he found its cage damaged and the lion gone.

The animal was "like a son to me," Garcia told Globo television.

Da Silva's lawyer told Folha that his client had tried unsuccessfully to take the animal back some months ago, and had now "tried to resolve the situation in his own way".

Police detained one worker at the site where Rawell was found for initially refusing to allow police access to the site, Globo reported.

Police delegate Leandro Roque said that Garcia and Da Silva were now disputing ownership.

A Sao Paulo police official told Globo that Da Silva ceded ownership of the lion in 2009, and was unaware of any documentation contradicting that.