Kandaka the lioness was once sick and emaciated in a rundown zoo in Sudan's capital, but thanks to wildlife enthusiasts she now thrives in a reserve watching her cubs grow.
She was among five lions suffering from starvation and disease with visibly protruding ribs and flaccid skin, held in grim cages with rusty bars in Khartoum's Al-Qurashi zoo.
Conditions worsened as Sudan's economic crisis deepened in the wake of months-long protests in 2019 that led to the toppling of former dictator Omar al-Bashir.
Of the five lions in the ramshackle zoo, two died.
The animals' plight shot to public attention two years ago after an online campaign prompted veterinarians, conservationists and animal enthusiasts the world over to rush to their aid.
Along with the two other surviving lions, Kandaka was moved to the Al-Bageir reserve.
"Their health has since improved greatly," said Othman Salih, who founded the reserve in January 2021.
The site, an hour's drive south of Khartoum, spreads over some four hectares (10 acres), or about the size of six football pitches.
As a testament to her recovery, the five-year-old lioness was called Kandaka -- the name of Sudan's ancient Nubian queens.
It is a term that has come to be associated with the women who played a vital role in the protests that unseated Bashir.
She is now thriving in Al-Bageir, one of 17 lions from across Sudan.
But keeping the reserve up and running comes with its own set of steep challenges.
Volunteers, often juggling full-time jobs with their passion for animal welfare, have been struggling with long commutes, soaring prices and limited resources.
The challenges have increased since last year's military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, which triggered regular mass protests and roadblocks.
"The prices are very high," said Salih, who travels to the reserve all the way from Khartoum every day.
The reserve's running costs remain high, including providing more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of meat for the big cats daily.
It has so far been kept afloat by donations and tours for schoolchildren and families.--AFP