Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

New arrivals Maggie & Sonja

Maggie and Sonja retreated to the shade
© Glen Vena/ BFF Shawari

On 20th January, two nine year old lions, Maggie and Sonja, set off from the Natuurhulpcentrum sanctuary in Belgium.  This had been their home for the last 18 months, after their confiscation from a German circus, and where Maggie needed the infected end of her tail amputated.  After seven weeks of intensive treatment, Maggie’s tail eventually healed, and both lionesses put on condition.  NHC was delighted when the Born Free Foundation offered them a permanent home at the Born Free sanctuary within Shamwari Game Reserve on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. 

Flown courtesy of Kenya Airways, and the last 12 hours of their journey, overland from Johannesburg, on trailers towed by Land Rovers Discoveries, they were accompanied by Shamwari’s vet, Dr Johan Joubert, and the Born Free Foundation’s Big Cat Consultant, Tony Wiles, and by Sil Janssen, Founder and Chairman of the Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC).  Read how they have adapted to their new life:  

22.1.15  7.00am – Everyone gathered at the four acre bush enclosure that was to be Maggie and Sonja’s new home.  Maggie’s crate was lined up with the entry to her hospital camp, and the wooden door to her crate was removed.  After a short hesitation she emerged and ran to where Sil Janssen was calling to her.  BFF had invited Sil along, to be a familiar face and voice on the journey, and while she was settling in.  Maggie did indeed seem comforted by his presence and was soon rolling on her back in front of him, just as she had done in Belgium.  The gate separating two halves of the hospital camp was closed, to keep Sonja and Maggie apart in case the stress of the move would make the sisters temporarily aggressive with each other. Sonja’s crate was then positioned against the entry to the hospital camp.  Sonja had been the more nervous on the journey, and seemed nervous now, as the wooden door to her crate was removed and she stood staring at her new surroundings.  With a few snarls she emerged, and she prowled around, snarling a little, settling close to the fence that divided her from Maggie.  It seemed they would be happier together so the gate between them was opened and both lions ran to where Sil was standing.

When it seemed clear they had no ill effects from the journey, the gate into the main enclosure was opened.  They both ran through into the bush – and seemed immediately at home. They blended into the sun-baked grasses and after exploring briefly, made for the shade in the bushes.  They were then left to enjoy their new freedom and privacy.   Later, when Sil and the others returned, Maggie came to his call but Sonja was nowhere to be found.

The Born Free care team kept an eye on the sisters from a distance throughout the day, and Maggie took some of the chicken being offered, but Sonja remained in the undergrowth, almost invisible. 

Maggie blends into the dried grasses in her new home
Maggie blends into the dried grasses in her new home © Glen Vena/ BFF Shawari

23.1.15 – another visit by Sil and the other members of the NHC and BFF teams. Maggie was heard roaring as they approached, indicating her confidence in her surroundings, that she felt able to announce her presence in this way. Sonja was hiding in the undergrowth but Maggie was lying under a bush, seeming at ease.  Ingrid Gerlo, an NHC volunteer, spoke to Maggie and Maggie looked over to her, but Maggie clearly felt no need to come and greet those who had cared for her for the last 18 months. Sil noted they seemed to have no need of his presence anymore and was glad they were becoming independent.  Sil and his colleague Dries were departing today; they left knowing that Maggie and Sonja had already left their lives in the circus far, far behind.   

24.1.15 – Glen Vena, Shamwari’s Animal Care Manager, brought some more whole chickens for the girls. Maggie and Sonja were in a clearing by the visitor’s platform, but lying in the shade of some trees.  Sonja started eating; Maggie didn’t seem hungry.   

25.1.15 –  Glen:  “I gave them some blesbok (antelope) leg.  Maggie took this new food and carried it over to Sonja, and then Maggie went back and got another portion for herself and took it back to Sonja and they both began to eat.  This is so cool, I have never seen this before.”

Maggie is confronted with blesbok meat for the first time.  She takes one portion to Sonja and has the other portion for herself.
Maggie is confronted with blesbok meat for the first time. She takes one portion to Sonja and has the other portion for herself. © Glen Vena/ BFF Shawari

26.1.15 – Glen: “The girls were lying at the front of their camp, by our guests’ viewing deck, and they didn’t move away when I arrived with guests.  That was really nice.  They seem to have eaten all their food too.”

27.1.15 – Glen: “Maggie and Sonia are looking good.  Having observed them these past few days it seems Maggie is very adventurous and is always on the go and will always make the first move to get up and take the food that we give them.
“Today it was horse meat.  After a few sniffs by Maggie, it looked as if it met her standards and she took it straight away and walked into the bushes to join up with Sonja.  They ate together and then Maggie did the same thing and collected a second portion which they ate together.  I still find this really strange and that we don’t have to separate them for feeding.  The love they are giving each other is fabulous and priceless. I have a feeling that once Sonja settles in she is going to love her new home and those of us who will be caring for them.

“They go into their hospital camps when we are around but as soon as they see people coming they go and hide in the bushes.  They now have privacy when they want it.” 


28.1.15 – Glen: “My picture of the day has to be this one where Sonja came right up to me. This was so cool, she is normally very shy and would take off and hide in the bush, but she was sniffing me and seemed really confident too.  I think we are going to get on just fine!!  Maggie is a sweetheart, she seems so gentle.  She will still take food  to Sonja and she would eat a little bit of the portion and then when Sonja looks at her, she would leave that portion for her and would walk to get the other one, then they eat together. 

© Glen Vena/ BFF Shawari

“Sonja still responds to each and every kudu (a large antelope) bark and when the leopards rasp or when other Born Free lions roar.    However I have not heard them roaring as yet, since Maggie on that first day.  I can't wait to hear them have a go at it !!! :)    In this picture Maggie is washing the drizzle off her face.  The weather has been great these past two days, drizzling a little.    I think the girls are enjoying this cooler weather after the  36 degrees Celsius we have had.     

“So for now all is good with them,  and they looking great.   I can take the weekend off, and leave them in the excellent care of my colleague Martin, and feel relaxed about how well they have settled in.”

© Glen Vena/ BFF Shawari
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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