Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Simba and Bella are truly together at last!  However, the introduction had got off to a rocky start…


The gate between them was opened on 15th April 2014, and immediately Bella was aggressive to Simba and he was clearly nervous of her.  We knew it was unlikely they would bond straight away, but as the days went by we became impatient for a thaw in Bella’s hostile stance.  These lions had been lonely for too long.

Bella and Simba had been living alongside each other, separated by fences, after Simba’s arrival at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (LWC) in Malawi on 21st February.  He had been confiscated from an animal trainer in France in October 2012 and had been living in a temporary home at the Natuurhulpcentrum Sanctuary (NHC) in Belgium since then.  This gentle lion seemed a perfect mate for disabled Bella, rescued from a Romanian zoo, and the Born Free Foundation, LWC and NHC had worked to bring them together.

Initially a wooden partition ensured Bella and Simba could only hear and smell each other, as stipulated by the quarantine requirements, but then the barriers came down and Bella came face to face with another lion for the first time in five years.

We thought Bella would be delighted to be so close Simba.  She had been distraught when her mate then her cub succumbed to disease in the Romanian zoo in 2006, and although she could see other lions in the zoo, she had lived alone.  In fact Bella was very pleased to see Simba to start with.  

However, her interest and curiosity started turning to aggression and her purrs became snarls. 

Bella has skeletal problems as a result of a poor early diet, when she had been used as a photographer’s prop by gypsies in Romania, and she only had one eye, the other diseased eye had been removed.  With only limited vision in her remaining eye, perhaps Bella felt vulnerable, and was sending signals to Simba, who was twice her weight and size, that she was no push-over.  Whatever her reasons, she was effectively intimidating Simba.

Eventually, after much planning and preparation between our Animal Care Consultant Tony Wiles, and Jasper Ipema, the then Animal Care Manager at LWC, it was deemed safe to try the introduction.  On 15th April the doors were opened between them.  We thought there might be a fight and we got one: Bella attacked Simba; and he defended himself.  However, it was all over in less than 10 seconds, and the pair separated. 

Bella’s hostility didn’t diminish though, and Simba was clearly nervous around this strange lioness who was now stalking him. 

Fortunately Bella started to come into season and her whole attitude changed.  To Simba this was equally unnerving, having Bella now rolling invitingly on the ground in front of him, and trying to lick him!  He retreated to his indoor quarters and wouldn’t come out!

On the 24th May, Simba’s hormones started to make up for his lack of experience and he mated with Bella for the first time.  That night, under a sky bright with stars, they remained outside together for the first time.  The next day Bella and Simba were seen relaxing and dozing together. 

Since then, it is clear they very much enjoy each other’s company.


Latest update from our colleagues at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre:

“Bella and Simba are still spending most of their time being together, lying side by side.  When Bella was in season, Simba didn’t appreciate it at all if any of the care team came close.  He charged the fence each time, chasing us away from HIS female!

“Bella used to be very dependent on human company, and Simba too would come to the fence to get our attention.  Now they only look up when they see us and then focus on each other again.  To us this is the best outcome we could have wished for.”

Note: We have a no-breeding policy at our sanctuaries, saving our precious sanctuary spaces for animals in need.  Simba has been vasectomised.
Bella and Simba - (C)Cheryl Mvulva
Bella and Simba, 2016 – still happily together (C)Cheryl Mvula MBE
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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