Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Virginia McKenna
Me with Virginia McKenna


MAY 2017

Where do I start with May… what a month it has been.  To be honest I have not recovered from April.  That was such a shocker (with Nimira our leopard and Jabulani the white lion dying so suddenly).  And now here I am telling you all about our new lions that arrived with us in the first week of this month. We are all so lucky and so thrilled that they arrived with us safely and that they have settled in beautifully in their new enclosures here at Shamwari.

Ciam and Nelson, the new boys, are doing very well and look good too. Nelson is here with me and Martin at the Julie Ward Centre and Ciam is at the Jean Byrd Centre, that is in the northern part of Shamwari, so he is with Headman and Kelvin.

The two lions are very different in age, Nelson is 16 years old, and Ciam is 2 ½ years old.  They have never lived together, so we knew it would be safer for them to be released into different enclosures.

So we will keep you all posted and I’m sure you all have been following the journey back to Africa on social networks.  It has just been amazing, all the support we had from so many people, we thank you all so much for that.

nelson and ciam

This picture was taken by Rudi Strubbe from the Natuurhulpcentrum sanctuary in  Belgium. Rudi and Ingrid accompanied Nelson and Ciam on their long trip to Africa, to end here at Shamwari in the Eastern Cape. Nelson was safely in the green trailer.


Nelson, confiscated from a French zoo, and taken in by Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium.  Arrived Shamwari 5th May 2017

Aah, dear Nelson looks great and he is slowly adapting to his new home here with us.  

He was a bit intimidated with his new surroundings at first, and he seemed to find security in his hospital camp and indoor house and remained there.  So, I tried to feed him a bit further away from his comfort zone, so he would get to experience his lovely main camp.   He grabbed his meat portion, ate it very quickly and licked his lion lips off quickly.  Then I think once he was out, and felt the grass, it hit him he was in a bigger area.  He started walking around sniffing his new home.  He left some of his scent when he got to a bush that didn’t look too thorny for him, then he sprayed it with his urine.  He showed some aggression to me but it  does not bother me at all, because he is a lion, he has just claimed his new home and he is allowed to be king of his area.

Nelson is very vocal and he has a beautiful roar and is very loud too.  He most definitely got the attention of our other lions and they roared back at him.  It was just amazing to hear them all roar.  When a lion roars their sounds makes you stand still, well that’s what it does for me, it shakes me inside and makes the hair stand on my arms.  It is good knowing that they are safe here with us and that we will do our very best to protect them and make them comfortable.

One morning I was busy showing around some of our visitors to Shamwari and I did not expect to see him but we were in luck that morning.  We went up on the viewing deck at his enclosure, to see if he was out and about. Well well, he was right in front of his viewing deck and he was looking at each of us on the deck.  He looked calm.   Then he got up and started to roar and he walked along his fence.  Then Brutus started roaring, then it was Jerry and our little Sinbad too with his mighty deep roar that sounds more like a very thirsty v8 engine being revved.  Our guests were speechless. It was such a lovely experience for them.  Listen to this clip, just as Nelson starts to roar

Nelson in his new home at the Julie Ward Centre
Nelson in his new home at the Julie Ward Centre

Ciam – you will read about Ciam in the Jean Byrd Centre reports, but I just wanted to share some of my observations of him.

Ciam is a beautiful young male lion and the first day he set foot here  , he looked at home.  He was all over the place, exploring, and he even climbed on his little deck that was built by the Shamwari Conservation Experience students, where he looked like the king of his castle.

He truly loves his food and is full of energy, I do hope we will be able to find a suitable rescued female for him to share his enclosure with. At the moment, he is being kept busy checking out the two leopards next to him that were rescued from Cyprus – Leda and Rhea.

On some days Kelvin and Headman report that they see him sitting at the back of his enclosure, where the highest point is, and this is where he can scan with his eyes the whole of the Jean Byrd Centre and see the other enclosures too.  We also have seen him taking very a keen interest in the wild animals that he can see on the reserve from a distance.  His mind must be busy, seeing animals he has never seen before, not to forget all the different crazy scents that he can smell.  It must be an amazing experience for him, I must say, as he is taking it all in.

So, I do not get to see Ciam every day, but I will make a plan to go up to the Jean Byrd centre as much as I can.  However Headman and Kelvin are doing very well caring for him, good job all.


ACHEE AND SINBAD.  Achee was rehomed from a private home in Romania, and arrived at Shamwari in September 2004.  Sinbad was rescued from a Romanian zoo and arrived at Shamwari in August 2007. 

These two cats are doing extremely well and are very funny on some days.  They have both taken a keen interest in their new neighbour – Nelson.

We see Achee and Sinbad parading the fence line trying to get a glimpse of Nelson next door through the wooden screen that we had to erect when Queen and late Jabu used to occupy that enclosure.  This was to stop the boys from pacing up and down the fence, as male lions are very territorial. It is working nicely once again in keeping the peace!

Sinbad and Achee
Sinbad and Achee

Jerry, Maggie and Sonja.  Jerry was confiscated from a Romanian zoo and arrived August 2007; Maggie and Sonja were rescued from a French circus and arrived January 2015.

These three are doing very well, and they are always close to each other. We see them most of the time when showing our guests round, which is nice for our guests.  Jerry is very vocal and he is also keeping an eye on Nelson and his old neighbours, Achee and Sinbad.   The other day I had to close them in their hospital so that I could clean their main camp. They conducted themselves very well while they were in the hospital camp, grooming each other although Jerry did bark at me once or twice when removing some unwanted weeds close to his hospital camp.

Sonja, Jerry and Maggie coming to drink too.
Sonja, Jerry and Maggie coming to drink too.

Brutus and Marina.  Brutus was rescued from a French circus and Marina was rescued as a cub from a flat in Romania.  They both arrived at Shamwari in April 2008.

Brutus and Marina are doing great. Brutus was not keen on pictures today, he was a bit grumpy, I will try and get him on a better day.  However, here is Marina busy with her favourite job – eating! Just look at her, her claws sunk in that meat and chewing away, but her eyes still on me. I think she is so beautiful. I must say since we have built all the hospital camps where we can feed the cats and observe them, things are so much easier and I can get really close to them and monitor them, or even get such close-ups like these and all is done in a safe manner and the cats are relaxed.


Sami and Alam, found as motherless cubs in Sudan.  They arrived July 2001.

The boys are doing well.  They do pace quite a bit these past three weeks, I am not sure, are they trying to find their sister? She died last month, with liver disease.  Although she liked to be alone a lot, she would also be with her brothers  a lot too, being top cat.  I’m sure in many ways they do miss her presence. Other than this observation, the boys are well and taking each day as it comes, just like me.

They are always together and otherwise seem the same as before. They will let go and move on.  I still struggle to find words to talk about them and the late Nimira, but I’m sure things will work themselves out.

Jean Byrd Centre Diary >

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

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