Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Bella in Lilongwe 2011

Catching up with Bella

Bella in Malawi
Bella before her rescue

A report by teacher, Sue le Boutillier, of her visit to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in July 2011, to help with their work, and to check on the progress of Bella, the one-eyed lioness rescued from Buhusi zoo in Romania in March 2009:

As one of the Lion’s Roar team which first alerted Born Free to the appalling conditions at Buhusi Zoo in Romania, which had been Bella’s permanent home until 2009, I was eager to see how Bella was faring at Lilongwe in Malawi. I applied to assist as a volunteer at the Wildlife Centre for two weeks in July, which would enable me to do something useful and see Bella in her not-so-new surroundings! I was impatient to see her as soon as possible and Jez, the Volunteer Programme manager, was only too happy to oblige.

My first reaction was to cry with relief! Bella looks fantastic – healthy, content and so much at home in her huge, tree-filled enclosure, that I can’t imagine what she makes of the changes in her lifestyle! In Buhusi, she only ever had cold, concrete (and filthy) flooring under her feet; at Lilongwe she sunbathes on a bed of fallen leaves between the trees or stretches out along the pathway where she is guaranteed to catch a moment or two with every visitor that passes by her enclosure. Although her eyesight is poor, her senses of smell and hearing are acute, and she sniffs the air regularly, and listens for any signals of approaching guests. She is so well-loved at Lilongwe – she features prominently on leaflets and posters – and visitors adore her because they are guaranteed to see her up close, as she relishes having company, and will welcome visitors by rubbing along her fence in greeting. Her life couldn’t be more different than the miserable existence she had in Romania.

Bella's scratching post

The management and carer team at Lilongwe are determined to make things even better for Bella. An ever-expanding enrichment programme is being developed, with a new ‘toy’ or ‘interest’ being used for her enclosure every day. I stitched several sacks from locally available hessian sheeting while I was there, which can be stuffed  with a variety of fillings, such as straw and leaves, and smeared with smells which will delight a lioness – prey droppings, catnip spray or lavender oil for example! Two other volunteers, Tanya had her son Oliver, had carried a bowling ball in their luggage for Bella to play with! The scratching brushes mentioned in a previous update had been used again; she loves these too, although a large part of Bella’s entertainment with these is the challenge of pulling them off the trees as swiftly as she can!! Hmmm… one still to be perfected!!

And Bella now has a popsicle (ice lolly) each week, sometimes with treats hidden inside, or flavoured with the blood from her fresh meat food.  The objective is to encourage Bella to use and become more accustomed with the complete area of her enclosure, as it is felt she may be a little reticent to leave the more familiar parts of the space due to her limited eyesight. But hopefully, she can be encouraged to roam around more freely as she investigates her new playthings.

Bella and her "popsicle"

One morning during my stay we left a stuffed sack, smeared with duiker poo, just along her pathway, after we had cleaned the indoor enclosure.  As soon as the door was re-opened, her head was raised high as she sniffed the air and she made her way over to investigate the new scent. She immediately grabbed the sack and headed off into her forested area, pausing occasionally to push the sack around and paw at its contents. She moved it around to several different places while we were watching, to our delight, as it certainly encouraged her to use a larger area than she does regularly. When I went in to retrieve the sack next day, in the hopes of refilling it with something different for the next time, there was very little of it left intact – which was actually even better than we hoped! Although it means a constant supply of bags will be needed, she obviously had spent several hours pulling it apart!!

Bella has now trimmed down a little, following the vet’s instructions, and this it is hoped, will assist her movement which is slightly hampered by her poorly-formed hind legs, caused by her previous care in Romania. Certainly she appears to be blissfully relaxed in her surroundings, and the one addition we would like to see for her would be a companion for permanent company in, or next to, her enclosure. But that’s the next project for Bella…!!


An energetic Bella!

This is posted no other reason than showing you some pictures of a happy lioness! 

Volunteer Anna has been encouraging her to ‘get active’ as part of a new enrichment regime following the news from her recent check up that she needs to lose a little weight.  She loves to run up and down the side of her enclosure chasing various ‘enrichment’ items.  Recently a gold bag had her extremely excited! 

Here she is relaxing after a good work out:

  • © LLWC
  • © LLWC
  • © LLWC

Bella and her giant toothbrush

After watching Bella rolling around on the ground and along the fence for a good scratch, volunteer Nick decided that a stiff bristled broom might be just the job to help her with those ‘hard to reach’ spots.  Nick has been working on carnivore enrichment alongside animal carer Gabi (pictured below), and the broom was definitely this week’s highlight.  However Bella had other ideas on exactly how she should use her new toy – as a toothbrush!  She played along for about an hour, growling and purring in satisfaction, with a little rest in between. 

If you’re interested in volunteering as part of the animal care team at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, please email

All images © Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (LLWC)


Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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