Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild



Bryony with Shada

Bryony Hedley, one of our supporters, visited the two Born Free sanctuaries within Shamwari during October 2012. Here is Bryony’s blog of her experience.

Yes, this is me, chuffed to bits to be back with my beloved adopted Shada, and once again living and breathing all things Born Free.  I still can’t quite believe how blessed I am to be able to play my own small part in the Born Free Foundation’s ongoing mission of love and protection towards all the creatures they rescue and care for.  It means more to me than I can ever express in words.

So let’s start at the beginning.  Or rather, for me, the continuation of a personal journey that started a long, long time ago, and which has culminated in my being fortunate enough to visit Shamwari three years running.  And I can tell you I’m not running anywhere, other than where my heart always leads me ... back to those cats that call from afar.

After a long journey south, I arrived at Shamwari on 28th October.  Christine, Education Manager at the Born Free rescue centres, was due to pick me up the next day after my first morning game drive to take me to the Jean Byrd Centre, but she was pipped to the post by some curious guests, who wanted to see the Born Free cats.  In fact I was partly responsible for their curiosity.  On our game drive we had seen a leopard in the distance – just his head – and I told the guests about the rescued leopards at the Born Free rescue centres.  Naturally I had my own secret agenda.  In executing my ‘cunning plan’, I hoped they would be moved to join Born Free and support their work.  So I was very relieved that Kuma was feeling particularly sociable that day and put in an appearance!  (And yes, at least one couple assured me they would donate.)

The magnificent and indomitable Kuma

As our vehicle approached the centre, with my tunnel vision I spotted Shada from quite a distance, sitting by the fence, and felt a squeeze of my heart, as I always do when I see her.  The warm and lovely Headman greeted us, and after explaining all about Born Free’s mission to the guests, first took us to see Shada.  She was really relaxed.  So different from the first year I visited, when she seemed not too keen on the company of strangers.  One word sprang to mind – “serenity”.

Shada looking serene

Next we visited Kuma, and Headman told us the moving story of how Alberto, the Italian man who had hand-reared him, had visited the Centre recently, not having seen Kuma for thirteen years.  Often quite anti-social, the moment Alberto called out to him in French, Kuma came running and crying to the fence.  Most of us have seen that wonderful moment when Christian the Lion ran to his former owners and hugged them, not having seen them for a year.  But this was THIRTEEN years, and Kuma still recognised Alberto after all that time!  It must have been a deeply emotional reunion for both man and cat, and I wasn’t the only one to shed a tear that day.


We left Kuma to his privacy, and walked to Jools and Jerry’s enclosure.  For the first time they were both out in the open (they have always been hiding on past visits!) albeit very sleepy. 

Jools – “Don’t be fooled - I’ve got my eye on you!”
Jerry – out for the count!

Later that day, when Christine and I went back, Christine remarked how Jools looks very much like a teddy bear, with her round ears and teddy bear nose, albeit a somewhat grumpy one!  Here she is, awake and ready-teddy for action!


Our visit ended with a sighting of one of the leopards, Leda who, at 21 years old, is the most laid-back cat I have ever seen!  Perhaps it only serves to show that whether cat or human, we all tend to mellow with age?  She was lying in the sun on top of her wooden shelter, and was still there when Christine and I visited later.  Leda was rescued from a zoo in Limassol, along with her two daughters, Roxanni and Rhea.  Sadly Roxanni died, and Rhea is no longer able to share the same enclosure with her mother, as she tends to fight.  We did see Rhea briefly, nudging her wooden shelter, but unlike her mum she is not the most friendly of cats.

Laid-back Leda
Lovely Leda

The next day Christine took me to the Julie Ward Centre to see the other big cats.  Unfortunately it was pouring with rain that day, so we only caught a fleeting glimpse of Brutus and Marina from the vehicle up by their fence, and likewise a brief glimpse of Ma Juah and Achee. 

On our third and final day together, after a quick trip to the Wildlife Rehab centre, Christine took me to see a couple of the schools in Paterson where she teaches young local children the importance of conserving wildlife in the wild.  In so doing she is laying the foundation for a more hopeful future for these now so vulnerable creatures.  If you want to change people’s attitude, then start when they are young and more willing and open to listening.  It was both a huge delight and privilege for me, to see behind the scenes of the amazing work she does, and to meet some of the children myself.  Here is Christine with one of the classes:

Hope for the Future

After this wonderful experience with the children, we returned for one final meeting with the ‘big babies’ and their ‘daddy’ Glen Vena, Born Free’s Animal Care Manager.  I hadn’t seen him until now, as he’d been busy doing what very few could ever do as well as Glen – caring for his feline family.  It was great to see him again, and first off we went to see the adorable Sinbad. 

And yes, I’m afraid a cuddle is out of the question!

I never cease to be amazed by his glorious mane:

Just chillin’

And sorry – just one more, because these pics are just too lovely not to share:

What’s more, I was really thrilled when Christine observed “His mane almost looks like your hair colour Bryony – you guys match!”  Well all I can say is I’ve rarely received a greater compliment!  Christine also told me that they had found out Sinbad is Jools’ son, and if you can wade your way through his magnificent mane it’s true, you can see he has teddy bear ears too!

Last but not least, we managed to get a glimpse of the elusive Sirius – my first ever sighting of him.  Let us not forget Pitou his sister, who sadly died two years ago.  I never got to meet Pitou – one of my great regrets, as I know how special she was.  But we have to focus on the living, and Sirius is still very much in the ‘land of’ ... and a feisty cat at that!  Nonetheless, Glen described him as a “good boy” and said he “became himself since he’s been here” ... what a lovely thought, and all thanks to Born Free.  As Glen also explained, Sirius is very shy and nervous, and keeps himself to himself.  So after a brief foray at the fence, with a bit of a hissy fit thrown in for good measure, he retreated again into the long grasses and likewise we respectfully retreated ourselves.

Sirius beating a hasty retreat
Now please leave me in peace!

So that was where we left him, and I truly believe he is at peace, and what better way to live out the rest of your days?

Finally, one more mention of Kuma.  When I first considered adopting one of the Born Free cats, I was initially drawn to Kuma.  But later, when I came to make my decision, something stronger seemed to pull me towards Shada.  So I changed my mind.  I don’t think Kuma has ever forgiven me!  He always hisses when he sees me, and although it could simply be he doesn’t want to be disturbed, I rather think he might have been sending me a message.  That last parting hiss he gave me this year seemed to speak a thousand words.  Either way, it is not for me to reason, whether in human terms or otherwise.  Suffice it to say, finally the message got through, and so, along with Shada, I will now rectify matters and adopt Kuma as well.  If two minds are better than one, then so are two cats!  And if he hisses at me next time I see him, at least I will be able to smile back with a clear conscience!

And so I end where I began, with Kuma.  But for me there will never be an ‘ending’, for my love for these big cats IS never-ending.  I hope to see them all again next year.  Till then, thank you for listening, and I hope I’ve managed to touch a few hearts in the process.

The two-leggeds do it for the four-leggeds! With Christine and Glen, two of the most dedicated and amazing human beings I’ve ever had the honour and pleasure to meet.

Bryony Hedley

December 2012 

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

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