Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


At a Born Free Foundation fund-raising event in June 2009, Claire Smith successfully bid for a photograph taken by Virginia McKenna of little Sinbad, the pint-sized lion rescued from a zoo in Romania and now living at one of the Born Free sanctuaries within Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.   Claire and her sister Caroline had helped raise the funds needed to rescue Sinbad and now they had the chance to visit him in person.  Below is Caroline’s report of their visit to Shamwari in October 2009.

The Born Free Foundation has two sanctuaries at Shamwari.  First of all my sister and I visited the Jean Byrd Centre, named after the very generous South African lady who donated the funds for its construction.

We were dropped off by our Shamwari Ranger Ben and we walked through the BFF Education Centre.  Out the back was a huge enclosure where this beautiful young lioness padded over to us.  We think it was Sarnia who is about two years old.  She and her sister, Marina had also been rescued from Romania, where they had been abandoned as cubs.  Sarnia reminded us of the family dog the way her huge eyes stared up at us wondering "hey, what's up?". 

We just noticed how tame she appeared.  Her blonde coat was immaculate despite a wet day and her amber eyes so inquisitive.    However, in the background a huge male lion got to his feet – Brutus, rescued from a French circus - and just stared at us wondering who woke him up -  hence the frowning.  Oops - time to move on!

Further up we could see another enclosure and just make out Shada the older lioness hiding from the rain in her shelter. She too had been rescued from a French circus.  She was too far away to capture on camera but I remember all the hard work that went into saving her - I still have the T-shirt and Born Free Xmas card at home - so weird to actually see her with our own eyes.  

We then walked to the front of the centre and climbed up one of the wooden viewing platforms to see if we could see Kuma the leopard.  Alas, Kuma was being a little shy - I think the rain didn’t help as it was getting heavy again. 

Heading back to Lobengula Lodge for breakfast we were joined by the Born Free Manager, Abagail, who kindly gave us a ride in her paw-covered Discovery donated by Land Rover, to the Julie Ward Centre the other side of Shamwari.  Luckily the weather started to improve.  Along the way we had a good chat about the Born Free animals and we kept stopping the car as we noticed giraffes, monkeys and warthogs by the side of the road - only in wonderful South Africa!

Julie Ward Centre

This centre was built with funds raised by the friends and family of Julie Ward, a lovely young girl who had been murdered in Kenya.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a fantastic chap called Glen.  He really was a great character, very dedicated.  He said he would take us directly to Sinbad's new home.  Our hearts were racing. We specially flew all the way from England to see this chap.  We had to go and check this handsome boy out.  Like all the other animals there, he had such a rotten start in life.  The sun started to come out and there he was: coming towards the fence with his red mahogany highlights in his mane.  We felt so privileged to see him that emotions were high.

Sinbad stopped and just flopped over in front of us - like my cat at home wanting a tummy rub! Alas there was an electric fence to remind us he is a male lion even though he acted so friendly! With his tongue hanging out, it was then we noticed his poor teeth that had ground down so badly.  We didn’t know if this was because he had been chewing on the bars in the Romanian zoo.  He had been used by a beach photographer in Romania, to attract tourists into having their photo taken with a cuddly cub.   He probably wasn’t fed properly as a cub, which is common, apparently, with the cubs used by photographers and now he was nearly half the size of a normal lion, and he had an unnaturally curved spine, and was not very strong on his legs.  Glen reassured that he was able to eat with his ground down molars and that he was putting on weight in the right places.  My sister pointed out "his paws, his paws" which both made us smile. They were huge and so cute. 

My sister was clicking away on her camera and we kept looking at each other thinking we had played a little part in making this lion have a happier life.   If anything, when we were leaving him he looked a little sad in his eyes which is pretty understandable as he has been alone for a long time.  Glen explained they were trying to find a compatible mate but it wasn’t that easy, as, with his poor bone structure, he would be at great danger from a ‘normal’ lion and might get attacked.  Fingers crossed Sinbad.

In the background the gardeners where clearing some of the vegetation out of the enclosures but Glen explained it had to be done now and again as part of the housekeeping for their enclosures.    Then, nearby we could see in the corner of our eye, a leopard coat.  Oh my lordy!   I believe it was Pitou from Monaco Zoo.  My sister took some great photos of this handsome leopard sitting right by the fence and you can’t help but notice, again, the healthy coat and her clear aqua blue/green eyes and long whiskers.  We were so close!  She was gorgeous and very relaxed.  

It was very reassuring to see how BFF operate on a day-to-day basis and seeing how clean and healthy the animals were looking in their new enclosures - spoilt for space.   Near to Pitou we saw Sami one of the 3 leopards found abandoned in the Sudan.  His face was beautiful too but marked quite differently showing each has his own identity and personality.

All the BFF team know each cat so well - which is important if you need to notice if they are unwell like our pets at home.  Glen told us how their behaviour is carefully monitored.  We know, because of their circumstances, they can never be truly wild but they are definitely loved and looked after in their new homes that all the BFF team and supporters have helped to get for them.

We highly recommend all Born Free Supporters, if they get the chance or want to have a holiday incorporating lots of wildlife, to see the BFF cats in their new homes in South Africa and see the animals on the Shamwari Game Reserve next door.  It was an educational and truly wonderful experience.

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

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