Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

They're Home!

Maggie and sonja
Land Rover
Arriving at Shamwari

Back where they belong.

Follow Maggie and Sonja's progress in the Shamwari Big Cat Diary...

The two rescued lionesses are settling into their new home at the Born Free Foundation’s Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre in South Africa, following an epic 6,000 mile journey across two continents.

Eight year old sisters, Maggie and Sonja, first travelled from Natuurhulpcentrum (a wild animal rescue and rehabilitation centre) in Belguim, to London’s Heathrow airport early on Tuesday 20th January, making history by becoming the first lions to travel by Eurostar. At Heathrow they were met by Singer, TV Star and Born Free Patron, Peter Andre, who watched them being safely loaded onto the inaugural Kenya Airways Dreamliner flight to Johannesburg via Nairobi.

Peter, who has supported Born Free’s compassionate conservation work for a number of years, was overwhelmed by the opportunity to get close to these majestic creatures, as they waited in their crates at the airport.

He said: “What an incredible day! A once-in-a-lifetime chance to be involved in a project which will make a huge difference to these animals’ lives. It’s heart breaking to think that Maggie and Sonja spent the first years of their lives in misery, but I’m absolutely delighted that they will now be enjoying a more natural environment in Africa, thanks to the Born Free Foundation and their fantastic supporters around the world.” 

Katrina Hanson, Cargo Manager Kenya Airways, added  “We were thrilled to offer our services to carry this amazing, unique cargo.  With the expertise of our support teams and our African network it is great we made this logistically happen for Maggie and Sonja.”

Peter and maggie
Peter Andre with Maggie at Heathrow airport

The journey home

Maggie and Sonja embark on the final leg of their journey to sanctuary in Shamwari, South Africa.

Maggie the circus lioness
Born Free big cat expert, Tony Wiles, Mbuvi Ngunze (CEO Kenya Airways) and Maggie before leaving for South Africa
Kenya airways dreamliner
Loading the lionesses for their final flight on the Dreamliner to South Africa

After touching down in Johannesburg on Wednesday 21st January, the last leg of the sisters’ journey to their new home at the award winning Shamwari Game Reserve in Port Elizabeth, was completed by road. Maggie and Sonja travelled in specially adapted trailers, towed by Land Rover Discovery vehicles, and once they had arrived, they were released straight into their large natural enclosure, where they were introduced to the sights and sounds of Africa for the first time.

Richard Gouverneur, Managing Director of Jaguar Land Rover South Africa and sub-Sahara Africa was elated with the news of Maggie and Sonja’s safe relocation. He said, “It’s difficult to imagine the hardships faced by these lions, and sad that people could even do this to animals meant to roam free. Land Rover is proud to have been part of their 6 000 mile journey that now sees these majestic animals set paw on African soil, where they’ll have a second chance to live out their days in a nurturing and natural environment.

Senior vet and Head of Wildlife at Shamwari, Dr Johan Joubert, and Born Free’s Big Cat Expert Tony Wiles, were present at every step of the journey.

Dr Joubert said, “I am very satisfied with the rescue and translocation of the lionesses Maggie and Sonja from the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium to Shamwari Game Reserve. Although it was a long journey for them, they travelled well. It was snowing when they left, two days ago, and now they are adapting to a hot African summer’s day. They experienced natural grass and trees today for the first time in their life. I am sure they have a good life ahead of them here at Shamwari Game Reserve.

Tony, who has more than 20 years’ experience working with Big Cats, is pleased that the lionesses are already growing in confidence in their new environment.

He says: “These are relatively young cats, and so despite being a bit tired from the journey, they should adapt quickly to their new surroundings. Already they are exploring the enclosure’s natural features and taking the opportunity to stretch their legs and bask in the southern hemisphere’s summer sunshine.”

He added: “After spending most of their lives in cramped and squalid conditions in the circus, it feels great to be able to offer these girls a safe, happy and natural place to live out the rest of their lives. That’s what it’s all about.”

Follow Maggie and Sonja's progress in the Shamwari Big Cat Diary...

With thanks to...

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

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