30 July 2022

HOW DID WE SAVE SIMBA?

Born Free’s acting Head of Rescue & Care Dr Andrea Donaldson reveals a behind the scenes look at how Simba’s recent incredible rescue and relocation to a lifetime home took place. 

Moving lions across borders is a complicated process that requires time, meticulous planning and attention to detail, by numerous parties.  

In some ways, Simba’s recent relocation was relatively simple. Having been found abandoned in a garage in Moscow, his relocation process was first from a temporary home at Wild Nature Hospital in Russia, to a halfway house with our friends at Natuurehulpcentrum in Belgium in December 2021. Then, in June 2022, we moved him from Belgium to a forever home at Animanatura Wild Sanctuary in Tuscany, Italy.  

Both legs of Simba journey were completed using vehicles over land, rather than international flights. This helped to reduce the stress levels of all concerned, humans and animals! In total, planning for Simba’s relocation took approximately 20 months, his relocation process was slowed slightly due to covid complications and restrictions between countries, but a 12-18 month process would be considered standard for a big cat relocation. 

In order to conduct this move, we first applied for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species import and export permits from Russia to Belgium. Such permits would normally take up to four months to be approved. As the second part of Simba’s relocation was within Europe, a TRACES (Trade Control and Expert System) permit was required which can only be issued 24 hours prior to departure, making for a nail-biting period.  

In addition to legal transportation permits we had to ensure that Simba was fitted with an identification microchip, was in good enough health to complete the journey, fully vaccinated, including rabies, and be examined by a vet and all the above approved. 

For the journey Simba travelled in a purpose-built travel crate. The design allowed him enough space to stand up, sit and lay down and also turn around. However, it was important that space was limited within the crate to minimise movement, in case of impact. Furthermore, the crate has easy and safe access to provide Simba with fresh water during the journey.  

Wherever possible we prefer that our animals are ‘crate trained’ prior to their journey. This means they are comfortable with the crate and will move in and out freely; this helps to reduce an individual’s stress on the day of travel. Ideally, we prefer not to sedate any animal prior to transit in order to get them into their crates. Once in their travel crate, it is securely closed and strapped into the transit vehicle to prevent the crate moving in transit or the animal from escaping. During road transit, multiple stops are made and the experienced transport team ensure the animals are coping with the travel and top up water as required. When animals are flown intercontinentally, they are monitored closely in the airport holding areas, pre and post flight. 

This may seem like an awful lot of effort for often just one lion! But, Born Free has long held and firmly implemented policies that every individual matters and if we can help, we will; simply put this is the foundation of our ethos. Aside from this, Simba is a product of wildlife trafficking, and one of the many hurdles in our attempt to end this cruel and dangerous trade is where can animals seized by authorities from wildlife trade be placed. Without organisations like Born Free who are able to join together authorities implementing wildlife laws, with sanctuaries who can provide displaced animals life-long care, together with donors who contribute to these efforts; ending the international wildlife trade would be insurmountable. 

Thank you so much to our wonderful supporters for helping make Simba’s relocation possible. You can still donate to his lifetime care and to create a permanent, purpose-built enclosure at Animanatura.

"This may seem like an awful lot of effort for often just one lion! But, Born Free has long held and firmly implemented policies that every individual matters and if we can help, we will; simply put this is the foundation of our ethos."

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