Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Big Cat Diary June 2016

Julie Ward Centre Blog

June 2016

Written by Glen Vena, Animal Care Manager

Hello everyone, June has been very cold, but we have been blessed with beautiful sunsets. I took this one on my way home in our Land Rover Defender, had to stop and take quickly so as not to slow down other road users. 

We have had some beautiful highlights and some really sad ones too.  I will try to keep to the point with my explanations. 

The sad news

Kuma was one of our leopards at the Jean Byrd Centre and he was euthanased on 23rd June.  He felt like a very close cat-friend to me and for months I have been sad to observe the signs of old age: his muscle was wasting away and he had other problems.  However what confused me so much was the will to live and the fire in his eyes.   I’m honoured to have worked with him, educated thousands and happy to have laid him to rest in his final resting place where I met him 16 years ago. 

Kuma was one of the cats that I started caring for when I started this work in 2000.  He was the first big cat I ever saw and still remember the impact he had on me when I saw him: I was trembling, my hands felt sweaty and my mouth dry. I can still remember this feeling as if it was yesterday. Tim Parratt was our Animal Care Manager then and on that day Tim took me around explaining everything to me about BFF.  Man, I could hear Tim talking but my mind was on this beautiful cat, I just could not focus. 

Africa is a beautiful place they say, I have not seen her yet, but through some of the animals I have met and cared for, rescued from different parts of Africa, I have seen where they have been and it breaks my heart every time I think of this. 

I’m glad that I could have introduced my youngest child to Kuma, she had such a big place in her little heart for him and would loudly say his name while sleeping, so yes, his name is forever imprinted on many who met him; he will be forever in our hearts.  Not many words can explain how I feel right now.   I know I have cried my eyes out.  I never tasted my tears before, but they are salty.  



Brutus and Marina.  Brutus was rescued from a French circus, and Marina rescued as a cub in Romaia.  Both arrived Shamwari April 2008

They always look stunning and are always close to each other,   Brutus had to be darted by Johan a few weeks ago, to have a look at one of his front legs as he had a slight limp.  Turned out he had an ingrowing claw on his right front paw.  Brutus is 16 years old now and sometimes with older cats, their claws don’t retract as well. He still has a slight limp, but we will keep an eye on him.     

Brutus is always camera shy but Marina is happy to be at the front by the visitor’s viewing deck, and doesn’t mind cameras pointed at her at all.

Marina and Brutus

Jabulani and Queen, originally from a lion breeding farm.  They were transferred to Shamwari from our sister reserve, Sanbona, in April 2015


Jabu and Queen are doing very well. Most of the time they are doing what they love and that is to sleep a lot! I managed to photograph  Jabu marking his territory one morning and rubbing his head on one of the aloes not far from the viewing deck, he was spraying the aloe too.

Achee and Sinbad. Achee was an ex-pet in Romania and arrived at Shamwari in September 2004. Sinbad was rescued from a zoo in Romania and arrived Shamwari August 2007.

It is exactly a year since Achee was transferred to Sinbad’s camp, after the death of her beloved Ma Juah.  We have seen Achee and Sinbad together on many occasions, but Sinbad still hasn’t bonded with her.  Achee always tries her best to be close to him. The other day I saw her touching him with her tail, yes with her tail!   Now and then she would put her tail on his tail and she would slowly turn her head to him to see his reaction.   He would just put his head on his paws and make as if he is sleeping.  She rolls on her back a lot trying her best to impress him and she would do this in a very playful manner. Not sure what he thinks most of the time.  After he sees her actions, he would lie on his side and blow air out of his mouth as if he is saying ‘you can do better than that’.

Other than that they are well and look good, at the moment it is cold this side as it is winter and they would try to find the best spot where the sun is and they would spend most of their time there. 

Sinbad and Achee

Jerry, rescued from Buhusi Zoo in Romania; he arrived at Shamwari August 2007. Maggie and Sonja, rescued from a French circus.  They arrived at Shamwari January 2015.

They look lovely as ever, all three do well together.  Maggie is always playful and loves to give hugs to Sonja and Jerry. Sonja is always the leader and Maggie the Soft Hearted, is the more placid and submissive of the two.

So good seeing them like that, at peace and friendly. Jerry keeps really fit, Martin and I always have to smile when we see him running up to the back of his camp to get his food and then running down towards the fence-line to Sinbad’s camp, to see if Sinbad is checking his girls out.  

Maggie and Sonja really enjoy their new platforms, made with the Shamwari Conservation Experience volunteers. See this little film of the construction and Maggie and Sonja checking it out.

So far we have not seen Jerry try it out but he likes lying underneath it and the sisters will keep him company there.

Food they enjoy and all three never leave anything behind, we always remove clean bones from their hospital camps.

Sonja, left and Maggie, right, on their new platform.
Maggie, left, with the shortened tail. Part of her tail had to be amputated after being damaged in the circus. Sonja, right. Credit Charlotte Cornwallis, Shamwari

Leopard Triplets, found motherless in Sudan.  Arrived Shamwari July 2001

Love them sooooo much, Sami always mischievous, Alam always playful and Nimira a bit reserved, but always keeping busy.  She loves to inspect holes to look for mice and moles, and for the odd guinea fowl close to the water trough.  The boys know not to mess with her, they will greet her, groom her, but never overstay their welcome or even try to fake mate/mount her.

Sami, Alam and Nimira


Martin and I had Alice Moir visiting us for a few days before she went on to visit our Shamwari Conservation Experience student programme.  Alice is the daughter of comedian and Born Free Patron, Vic Reeves.  She loved being with us and we loved her, she was all over the place helping us with our general duties. Looking forward to her visiting again.

Alice Reeves cleaning out the water troughs
Martin, Alice and I on our way to our next task


Martin and I were very fortunate to visit Lions Rock, the Four Paws sanctuary in the Free State.  We stayed a few days to see how they operate - and manage their 112 rescued big and small cats!   I must say it was a huge learning experience and we have gained valuable information and picked up practices we could maybe implement here.

Martin and I arrive at the entrance to Lions Rock Big Cat Sanctuary

It was lovely seeing all their big cats, but very moving to hear the sad stories of where they have come from, especially seeing a small lioness called Gypsy. Gypsy was rescued from Buhusi Zoo in Romania, the same zoo that Jerry came from.  We believe she was hand-reared as a cub and used by some Romany people to tempt tourists to having their photos taken with her.  It seems she had a poor early diet as she is now very small and her skeleton is deformed.  Seeing her made me realize that Sinbad and Achee, who also have problems as a result of their early hand-rearing, are much better in comparison.  I could not help myself, I burst out crying. At that exact moment, I was reduced to a nobody and felt so bad.  She stole my heart on the spot and I was speechless for a few minutes while I was trying to take everything in.  

Gypsy at Lion’s Rock. Gypsy was coming towards us to get her food, and she was actually managing a little trot.
Profile picture of Gypsy……
Gypsy inside her lovely hospital camp with her food in her mouth. She had lots of hay / teff keep her warm during the cold nights.

I could not believe that Gypsy still had so much faith in humans after what had happened to her.  My distress at seeing her was more out of anger than feeling sad for her, as she is very well cared for by the Lion’s Rock team.  I was just angry at what she has been through and none of it was her doing.  It troubled me a lot and made me want to do more for our cats and all our wildlife.  They deserve much more.

Until next time.


Catch the latest Jean Byrd Big Cat Diary here! 

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