Three lions in a wooden wagon, before being rehomed at a Born Free Sanctuary

Circus Rescue

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.

Below are the stories of our successful circus rescues.


Four lions, standing in a group facing the camera

Lions Angela, Louga, Bellone, and Saïda were surrendered by a French circus to wildlife centre Tonga Terre d’Accueil in 2018. Becoming known as the ‘Lions of Lockdown’, their move to our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa was delayed due to COVID, but we were finally able to transport them to their new home in 2022.

See the Lions of Lockdown arrive at Shamwari


Jora and Black in a small cage before being rescued

In 2015, Bulgaria banned the use of big cats in circuses. After years of being forced to perform in the Big Top, Bulgaria’s last two circus lions, Jora and Black, had been languishing for months in a cramped beast wagon, frustrated, bored and with barely room to turn around.

Along with our friends at the NGO Four Paws, Born Free was able to rescue them and give them a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Black passed away in 2024, while Jora continues to live in his spacious sanctuary home.

See Jora and Black after arriving at Shamwari


Two lionesses walking towards the camera, the closest lioness is licking her lips

Lion sisters Maggie and Sonja were owned by a circus in Germany. After a local animal NGO got involved, the authorities seized the lionesses having found that Maggie had a wounded tail that wasn’t being treated by the circus.

Maggie and Sonja were given a temporary home by our friends at Natuurhulpcentrum, Belgium, where Maggie received extensive medical treatment for her tail and both lioness were provided with the care they deserved.

In 2015, Born Free gave Maggie and Sonja a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Maggie and Sonja became the first lions to travel by Eurostar!

See Maggie and Sonja’s journey


A male lion in a beast wagon

Lion Brutus was living in a run-down circus in France when Born Free was alerted to his plight by French colleagues. Brutus was confined to a circus trailer with a living space of less than two metres square. Apparently, he was never let out, not even to perform.

Brutus was confiscated from the circus and was rehabilitated at Le Refuge de l’Arche, France. In 2008, Born Free gave Brutus a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

Watch Brutus playing with lioness Marina at Shamwari


A female lion lying down looking at the camera

In 2014, Born Free rescued Elsa, a six-year-old lioness, from a travelling circus in Sardinia, which was involved in a court case on the grounds of animal cruelty.

Working with Italian NGO Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV), Elsa was able to be rehomed while the court case continued. Born Free transferred Elsa to the Animanatura Wild Sanctuary in Tuscany. It was originally thought that Elsa would eventually be given a permanent home at our Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. However, due to legal setbacks, the agreement which allowed Elsa to be removed from the terms of the ongoing court case, wasn’t agreed until 2018.

By this time, it became apparent that Elsa was happy and content where she was, and it was in fact within her best interest to remain at the Animanatura Wild Sanctuary. In 2019, Elsa was introduced to a rescued male lion named Madiba.

See Elsa thriving in Italy


A male lion sat up next to a female lioness lying on the ground

In 2014, we rehomed Simba, a nine-year-old lion from a circus in France. Simba had been held by the circus since he was a cub, until he was seized by the French authorities and given a temporary home at Natuurhulpcentrum, Belgium. After a period of recuperation, Born Free relocated Simba to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi, where he joined rescued zoo lioness Bella.

Watch Simba’s journey home


Three lions in a small beast wagon behind a yellow fence

Lions Djunka, Nala and Shada, were kept for years in a rusty beast wagon 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 our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.


Four tigers in a metal barred cage

In 1997, Born Free rescued six tigers from a rusty beast wagon at a circus in Italy. After four years at a sanctuary in Kent the remaining five tigers were flown to their ancestral homeland in India and given a home at Bannerghatta Tiger Sanctuary in 2001.


Black and white photo of tigers in a cage

In 1987, Born Free rescued six tigers from a squalid beast wagon in a defunct circus in Kent, UK. They were rehomed to lush forest enclosures at Bannerghatta Tiger Sanctuary in India.