Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Bryony’s belated Born Free blog

A blog from special Shamwari and Born Free friend and supporter, Bryony Hedly, of her visit to the Born Free Rescue Centres at Shamwari Reserve, South Africa.

Glen and Bryony

What better way could there be to start my blog than with one of Glen’s huge smiles?  A smile that can cross countless miles and stay in your heart forever, as everyone who has had the good fortune to meet him knows.  A smile that could launch a thousand ships … or in his case, big cats!  Not that there are a thousand cats in his care, but those he does care for could not be embraced with more love or devotion.  He is the Big Daddy of Big Cats and where would Born Free be without him?  Let’s not even go there!

So here I am, stretching my mind back many months to November 2016, when I was lucky enough to visit Shamwari yet again and, more importantly, my ‘tribe’ of friends, both two and four legged, at the Born Free Rescue Centres.  As ever, it’s as if it was only yesterday and, as ever, my days were very full in the most tiring, but uplifting, heart-warming way.

On my first morning, after less than 4 hours sleep, Catherine whisked me off to the Jean Byrd Centre.  It was a very hot day and my beloved adopted cat, Shada, was being a Shady Lady, as she so often is. So only the merest glimpse of her up in the undergrowth at the top of her enclosure, keeping cool under a tree.  I never mind not seeing her, knowing she is happy doing her own thing.  That’s the way it should be.  Just feeling her indomitable presence is enough!

Jora and Black, however, were up close and personal, right by the fence, and I had lots of quality time with them.  How wonderful it was to see them together again, having been temporarily separated when I visited in 2015, due to the treatment he needed, for the injury to his tail he arrived with.  All healed now, and how they love each other.  I was so lucky to catch these shots:

Jora and Black snuggling up
Jora and Black snuggling up
Two very sleepy boys!
Two very sleepy boys!

Wow what a magnificent pair they are!

Black, showing off his splendidly enormous and gorgeous mane!
Black, showing off his splendidly enormous and gorgeous mane!
Jora’s golden mane is gloriously gorgeous too!
Jora’s golden mane is gloriously gorgeous too!

The beautiful Leda was also up close to the fence, under her favourite bush.  She is such a friendly leopard and is still really looking good and healthy, despite her great age:

Leda relishing her shady spot
Leda relishing her shady spot

One of the highlights for me (even though EACH cat is a highlight!) was seeing Jabulani and Queen together under a tree.  The previous year Jabu had his back to me!  Last year I could see his lovely face, while he was busy giving himself a ‘facial’, using the leaves to rub off the countless flies that were landing on his luxuriously long mane:

Bliss!

I have a long history with these two lions, and what makes these photos extra poignant now, is that sadly Jabu died in April this year.  However, he had a long and happy life with his Queen and it was only too evident what a deep bond they had.  I worried for Queen - it must have been devastating for her to lose her soulmate - but I gather she is doing fine now, with other lions nearby for comfort.

True Love is not just for humans!
True Love is not just for humans!

My last sighting of them, which I will hold forever dear, was from WAY up high on a mountain, overlooking the Jean Byrd Centre.  They were right up at the top of their enclosure by some bushes – impossible to miss, in all their glorious whiteness.  Little did I know it was the last time I would see them together, but what a happy memory to treasure.

The next day I was whisked off again to see Glen at the Julie Ward Centre.  It was so wonderful to spend quality, one-to-one time with him, which is a rarity, a privilege, and an absolute joy!  First, we went to see Jerry and his ‘ladies’.  Jerry was napping under a tree and snapping at us, not too keen on being disturbed!  Glen told him, “Bryony came to say hello again!” But when he just snarled in response, he said “I think he told me in very polite language to go away!”  I duly thanked him for granting me an audience, albeit reluctantly on his part, and we left him in peace.  I love this photo of his HUGE paws:

“Do Not Disturb!”
“Do Not Disturb!”

Sonja and Maggie were together under a tree, keeping their distance and giving their ‘man’ some space!

Sonja and Maggie
Jerry. The photo says it all!!

Next, we went to see Sinbad and Achee.  The previous year Sinbad was still proving very resistant to Achee’s charms, but her persistence seems to have paid off and this time I was thrilled to see them lying very close together in perfect harmony.  Whilst not exactly ‘love’s young dream’, it’s plain to see they are very happy and content in each other’s company.

Sinbad and Achee – what a harmonious sight!
Sinbad and Achee – what a harmonious sight!

Marina and Brutus make for another harmonious couple, but they were also very sleepy due to the intense heat.

Marina and Brutus just chillin’
Marina and Brutus just chillin’
Marina is always so friendly, with her big soulful eyes
Marina is always so friendly, with her big soulful eyes

Brutus, when Glen was talking to him, replied each time with a rumbling growl and a snarl.  Glen observed, “He just prefers to sleep and be grumpy!”

“I don’t wanna talk about it Bryony!”
“I don’t wanna talk about it Bryony!”

Last, but not least, we found all the leopard triplets.  Sami was out in the full sun, looking so handsome!

Sami striking a pose
Sami striking a pose

Alam joined us a bit later, deciding he wasn’t going to miss out on Big Daddy Glen’s company.  At which point Sami snapped at him in disgust and Glen ticked him off for being “Mr Jealous!”

It’s a Cat’s Life!
It’s a Cat’s Life!

“Jealousy” aside, I now have the dubious honour of having been sprayed by Sami!!  Glen had warned me it might happen.  Well we had to laugh.  And he made sure to take a photo of the splashes on my clothes, so that I could send them to Tricia in the UK!  He said, “Tricia never believes me when I tell her I get sprayed, so please send her the evidence!”  No sooner said than done!

The evidence
The evidence!

The icing on the cake of my visit was a lovely long lunch with Catherine and Johan the vet.  What an HONOUR and joy to spend quality time with Johan.  He is always so busy and on previous visits I’ve only met him when he’s been involved in procedures.  What a special person he is.  So very different to the distant and scientific kind of vet we encounter so often.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, and I don’t know how he does what he does, being as emotional as he is.  What a lovely big heart of a man!

With Catherine and Johan at Sarili Lodge
With Catherine and Johan at Sarili Lodge

Oh, how lucky I am to have such good friends! 

But OH, how sad it is to have lost not one, but three of our beautiful animal friends in the space of one year, all with age-related health problems.  First Kuma, the leopard from Abidjan zoo, whose absence was palpable.  And yet, even in his absence, I could still feel his presence everywhere.  Then the magnificent Jabu.  And finally, too soon after Jabu, beautiful Nimira.   How we love them, and how we miss them.  I feel for Glen so much, as it’s been a very hard year for him.  But he – and we – must go on for those that are still with us.  And I can’t wait to meet Ciam and Nelson in November, the lions who arrived in May.

Meanwhile, I’d like to dedicate this to absent friends.  Although they are no longer with us, they will always live on in our hearts.  I found these words so comforting, and hopefully they will ring true to you, in the way they do to me:

In Future
Look for me in the Past
And you will find me in the Present”

Indeed.  They may be out of sight, but they will never be out of mind.  Because when someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. Treasured memories of Kuma, Jabu and Nimira always. Gone, but never forgotten.

Kuma.  Much loved, forever missed.
Kuma. Much loved, forever missed.
Nimira.  Always in our hearts.
Nimira. Always in our hearts.
Jabulani the Magnificent.
Jabulani the Magnificent.
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906


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