Thursday morning at Jimmy Jablon's wildlife rescue, a red pickup hauling a horse trailer pulled in the drive. In the back were two crates that had started their journey more than a day before in South Africa, then were flown to Amsterdam, then to Miami and picked up by a man who drove them to Spring Hill.
On each crate was a label. "Live Animals," it said, with illustrations of four — a dog, birds, fish and a turtle.
Underneath, in ink somewhere along the way, someone wrote what was inside the box:
"They are supposed to be friendly and hand-raised by the locals," Jablon said before opening the cages.
"We'll find out in a minute."
Jablon slept little Wednesday night, nervous and excited. He had waited four months and cashed in his life insurance policy to get them — a male and female white lion, extremely rare and believed to be extinct in the wild. According to the Global White Lion Protection Trust, white lions are not albinos, but a genetic rarity specific to the Timbavati region of South Africa.
Jablon, who runs Wildlife Rehabilitation of Hernando Florida, has rehabilitated native animals — raccoons, opossums, birds — for most of his life, but has rescued exotic animals in recent years — tigers, lions, cougars, spider monkeys, kinkajous, lemurs, wallabies. His friend Jerry Holly, who runs Micanopy Zoological Preserve, found out about these two white lions for sale and the two men bought them together. Jablon wouldn't say the price.
The lions will live at Jablon's rescue because Holly, who picked up the lions in Miami and drove them to Spring Hill, doesn't deal with big cats. Jablon said he wanted these lions, which are about 16 months old, to help conserve the species and, hopefully, to make some money by selling their cubs to quality zoos. Jablon said his full-time job is taking care of his animals and that the rescue runs on donations, which are scant.
Jablon is leaving the lions alone for the next few days so they can get used to their new home — a 6,000-square-foot enclosure with a pool and toys. They scarfed down the 10 pounds of chicken Jablon gave them. He doesn't know their names yet.
"I'm just so excited they are finally here," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.