Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Bryony's Born Free Blog - Shamwari Nov 2015

Yet another year has flown by, and this is my fifth Born Free blog in as many years.  I never forget how lucky I am to be able to visit Shamwari on such a regular basis, and this year I felt particularly lucky.  Catherine, Born Free’s Centre Manager, had contacted me beforehand to ask if she could “kidnap” me as soon as I arrived, as she had “something special” planned with the Big Cats.  Little did I know quite how special that something would be!

On the way to the Julie Ward centre she told me that Ma Juah and Achee were to be moved from their old enclosure to a new one.  Being disabled as they are, and in Ma Juah’s case not getting any younger, it was felt that their old enclosure had too many steep slopes, and it would be better for them to live in an area where the ground was more level.  Catherine also told me that Val Hackett and her husband Mike Carey were staying at Shamwari as well, and that they would be joining us.  What a wonderful surprise!  I was so excited to meet Val and Mike, knowing they are two of Born Free’s most loyal supporters and biggest fundraisers.   When Catherine knew Val and Mike and I would be there together, she planned the move to fit in with our stay, so that we could both be involved.  I felt so incredibly touched and honoured! 

When we arrived at the Julie Ward centre, Johan the vet, Glen, and an assistant vet Megan were preparing the syringes with the required sedatives and antidotes.  We then drove to the enclosures where MJ and Achee were being held.  Johan explained that darting any lion is always a worry, and particularly so with MJ, who suffers from fits.  MJ was the first to be darted.  Next it was Achee.   Johan gave her a gentle slap to make sure she was completely out.  It took six strong men to transfer her on to the stretcher and carry her to the vehicle!

Six Strong Men!

MJ had finally succumbed to the sedative, so more weight lifting for the men, and MJ soon joined Achee in the back of the vehicle.

Val and I were thrilled that we could stroke their fur and touch their paws.  What a moment that was!  Something we could never do while they were awake!  Johan then proceeded to do health checks on both cats, which again he can only do when they’re out for the count.  Thankfully they were both in good condition. Afterwards the men moved each cat into a separate concrete pen, where they would stay until the sedative wore off.

How lucky we were with the weather.  The forecast for that day had been terrible.  But the rain held off just long enough for the deed to be done.  Within seconds of administering the antidotes, the heavens opened, a huge storm was upon us, and we all got drenched!  Had it come an hour earlier, the whole procedure would have had to be cancelled!

The next morning we all met up again at the Julie Ward centre to see Ma Juah and Achee being released into their new enclosure.  Sadly MJ seemed unsettled, and she bolted out of the holding area like a bat out of hell.  Whereas Achee was much more relaxed and just sauntered out.   I felt so sorry for Glen, because he explained that it would take him several weeks to regain MJ’s trust. That’s the trouble with caring for animals; you can never explain to them that what you’re doing is for their own good.   But Johan emphasised that hopefully this is the last time they will have to dart MJ for the foreseeable future.  And hopefully by now she has forgiven Glen and all is well between them again.

After we left MJ and Achee to settle in, we went back to the office, and Val showed me the special bench in the centre’s garden in memory of her mother, Marjery, who was also a huge supporter of Born Free.  

With Val on Marjery’s bench

Val and I clicked immediately, the moment we met.  As Val said, she felt as if we’d known each other for always.  What an amazing human being she is.  So deeply passionate and emotional, her spirit shines out like a beacon.  One of the first things she asked me was could I please attend the next fundraising ball in Derby on 30th May.  Well how could I possibly refuse?!   She is an absolute inspiration and now also a precious friend.

While we were at the centre, we went to see the other ‘local residents’.  First we saw Brutus and Marina, who were both up near the fence.  Val is like me, and prefers taking photos of the cats when you can’t see the wires in front of them.  So sadly no photos of the handsome couple this year!

The leopard triplets were all out and about, Nimira on top of their platform on lookout duty:

Nimira casing the joint!

Sami and Alam were harder to find, until we spotted Alam lying under a tree.  Then Sami appeared, walking right past us, and flopping down by a bush to soak up the sun.

You Lookin’ at me Kid?

Alam then decided to join Sami and have a bit of an ‘inappropriate’ encounter with him, which made him furious and resulted in a lot of snarling and growling!

Cat Fight!

After all this excitement, we decided it was time for breakfast.  But before we left we decided we needed a photo of the whole team:

The Big Cat Special Team! Left to right: Mike, Catherine, Me, Matt, Lou, Johan, Val, Glen

After a delicious breakfast at Longlee Manor, we drove to the Jean Byrd Centre to catch up with all the other cats.  The adorable Sinbad was currently living there, while his enclosure at the Julie Ward centre was being given a ‘makeover’.  He looked extremely contented, obviously enjoying the wide open space:

Sinbad enjoying the scenery
Life can be SO tiring when you’re a Lion!

As always, I can’t resist taking photos of Sinbad.  He’s just so photogenic!  Also I was telling a friend of mine all about Born Free, and she decided to adopt Sinbad for one of her little girls for Christmas, and Shada for the other one.  Result!  I love this photo of him, showing off his gorgeous red mane and his beautiful big brown eyes:

Beautiful Big Brown Eyes

Tearing ourselves away from Sinbad, we went to see Rhea and Leda.  Here’s Leda in all her glory, who still looks fabulous, despite being the oldest of all the rescue cats:

Lady of Leisure!

Sadly I didn’t manage to take a photo of Kuma, one of my two adoptive cats, this year, as he was too close to the fence and I didn’t want to invade his privacy by putting my camera up between the wires.  He greeted us with his usual hiss, and it was wonderful to see him, although he is noticeably thinner than he was last year.  Only to be expected, given that he is quite an old boy now.

Next we went to see Jerry, who sadly lost his mum Jools earlier in the year.  I felt a bit sorry to see him on his own, but it is hoped that another lioness or two might be able to join him in the fairly near future.  Meanwhile he looks magnificent, and this is the best picture I’ve ever managed to take of him, as on previous visits he’s always been asleep!  I particularly noted how he has the same ‘teddy bear’ ears as his mum!

Jerry looking regal

Last, but by no means least, we went to see my other adoptive cat, Shada.  When we’d first arrived, she had been up close to the fence, as she always seems to be whenever I visit.  However, when we ended up going to see Sinbad first, she must have felt a bit miffed, and retreated to her platform!  So this the best shot I could get of her with a long zoom ...

The magnificent Shada

Having watched all the cats chilling out, it was feeding time.  So we accompanied Glen round the enclosures again.  The cats didn’t take any notice of us this time, as our presence must have paled in comparison to a good piece of meat!  Sinbad was the last to be fed, and Glen remarked how different he is now to when he was first rescued.  In those days he couldn’t even walk with a piece of meat, he was so weak.  How wonderful, then, to see him striding off with a huge chunk in his mouth with such a sense of purpose!

What a day it had been, but there was one final treat to come.  Val, Mike, Matt and Lou were staying at Eagles Crag, so Catherine, Glen and I joined them for a Born Free dinner.  It was wonderful to spend more time with them, and what a lovely and fitting end to an extraordinary couple of days.

So that is the story of my latest visit to Shamwari/  I think of the wonderful people who work so tirelessly for Born Free. Everyone at Shamwari, and other far-flung places, not least the UK.   As for Val, she is in a league of her own.  I will be forever grateful that our paths crossed when they did.

Here’s to you Val!
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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