Born Free is proud to have rescued and rehomed several big cats from circuses, providing them lifetime care in spacious, naturalistic sanctuaries.

This started in 1987 when we rescued six tigers from a squalid beastwagon in a defunct circus in Kent, UK, and rehomed them to a five acre lush forest sanctuary in Bangalore, India.

Five lions currently living at our big cat rescue centre in Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa, were rescued from circuses in Europe – Jora, Black, Maggie, Sonja and Brutus.

Find out more about their stories here.

GOODBYE TO THE CIRCUS -  Read more and make a donation to support our latest rescue of four former circus lions from France. 




Working with Italian NGO LAV, Born Free rescued Elsa, a six-year-old a lioness, from a travelling circus in Sardinia. The circus is involved in a court case on the grounds of animal cruelty. In 2014, Born Free transferred Elsa to Centro Recupero Animali Silvatici della Maremma, a wildlife sanctuary in Tuscany.

In 2018, she was removed from the ongoing court case and, as Elsa was happy and thriving at the sanctuary, it was agreed she would remain there permanently. Elsa’s companion is a male lion called Madiba.



In 2014, we rehomed Simba, a nine-year-old circus lion from France. Simba had been held by a French circus since he was a cub, until he was seized by the French authorities and moved to the Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in Belgium.

After a period of recuperation, Born Free relocated Simba to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, Malawi, where he joined rescued zoo lioness Bella. They passed away in 2017.



Djunka, Nala and Shada, were kept for years in a rusty beastwagon at a French circus, which did not have the legal permits to keep them.

Working with French NGO One Voice, Born Free rescued them in 2006 and gave them a new home at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

Sadly, Shada was the last of the trio to survive, and she passed away in January 2018.



Born Free regularly receives calls for help about captive animals in need. Sadly, there are many more animals in need of rescue than there are sanctuary spaces worldwide.

It is vital we use precious sanctuary spaces not only to rescue animals in need, but to also highlight the problems facing captive wildlife (for example, private ownership, trade, circuses, and substandard zoos). We therefore have many considerations to make when we are informed about a captive animal in need.

View our flowchart to give you an idea of what we must take into account when we receive information about a captive animal from supporters. 




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