Born Free is delighted that King has won the Animal Rescue Award at the Daily Mirror Animal Hero Awards 2018.

Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, said: “We are honoured to accept this award on behalf of King and are so grateful to everyone who made his move to our big cat sanctuary possible. King will now live free from harm in a large, natural bush enclosure, but millions of wild animals around the world who are kept as exotic pets are not so fortunate. We dedicate this award to them and hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to, and take action against, the exotic pet trade.”

We would like to thank all of our supporters for their overwhelming generosity that made King’s move to South Africa possible, and to all those who have chosen to adopt King to help fund his lifetime care. 

We would also like to thank French animal charities Fondation 30 Million d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche for rescuing King from the apartment; Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre for rehabilitating King; Kenya Airways and Air Partners for flying King to Africa; and Shamwari Private Game Reserve for their continued support for our big cat sanctuaries and expert care of our lions and leopards.




Born Free is delighted to announce that King is starting a new life in his ancestral home of Africa.

King is a one-year-old lion cub who was rescued from an apartment in Paris last summer where he was being kept illegally as an ‘exotic pet’ in appalling conditions. Following a successful appeal launched in April, Born Free will now provide King with lifetime care at its Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari Private Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

King started his journey from Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, Belgium, on Thursday 5th July. From Belgium, he travelled under the care of Born Free’s expert team to London Heathrow airport for a flight to Africa, courtesy of Kenya Airways. After a short internal flight, King touched down in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before travelling the short distance by road to Shamwari and to his new home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre.

Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Trustee, said: “I am sure there will be a lot of smiling faces today! So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived! Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil and can begin his happy new life.  May it be a long and peaceful one.”

Shamwari has been home to Born Free’s two Big Cat Rescue Centres for more than 20 years. Comments Group General Manager, Joe Cloete, said: “To be able to welcome King to his new home is incredibly heart-warming for us, especially so during our refurbishment process, of not only some of the lodges, but the Born Free Centre itself. Conserving a vanishing way of life and educating guests on the importance of living in harmony with nature and wildlife is what we strive for at Shamwari Private Game Reserve.” 

Born Free’s Corporate Partner, Kenya Airways, flew King to Africa. Katrina Hanson, Kenya Airways’ Area Cargo Manager, said: “We were delighted to assist in King's amazing relocation to Born Free’s Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari in South Africa. We have worked with Born Free for many years carrying rescued lions from Europe to Africa so they can enjoy being a lion. These relocations have been a great success and we do all we can to make it as stress free as possible for the lions. Kenya Airways’ cargo facilities at Heathrow and across our network are fantastic for animal welfare from the smallest and domestic, to the mightiest of beasts! We were delighted to have King on board.”

Swissport provided crucial logistics support for King’s journey. A Swissport spokesperson added: “The Swissport team are proud to have been a part of King’s journey to Born Free’s big cat sanctuary. With the help of Kenya Airways and our dedicated staff, we hope he had a smooth journey and will enjoy his new surroundings.”

The sad story of King before he was rescued highlights the plight of millions of captive wild animals around the world that are kept as exotic pets. Born Free opposes the keeping of wild animals as pets. Wild animals, whether they have been taken from the wild or bred in captivity, have extremely complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to suffering when kept as pets. 

Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, added: “It is staggering that, in 2018, lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe. We are concerned that King’s case is the tip of the iceberg, and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue.”

Lions for life



Late last summer, distressing images were circulated on social media of a tiny lion cub being kicked and beaten by an unknown man somewhere in France. Horrified members of the public alerted the authorities, who immediately launched an investigation.

Their inquiries led them to an abandoned apartment in the Paris suburb of Noisy-le-Sec. Inside they made a shocking discovery – a male cub, half-starved and cowering in a small, dirty cage.

French animal rescue charities Fondation 30 Million d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche sprang into action to treat the poor cub and found him a temporary home at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre (NHC), in Belgium. There, he was nursed back to health and named King.

Just a few months old, little King is an innocent victim of the illegal wildlife trade. His ‘owner’ was taken into custody on charges associated with illegally keeping a wild animal and animal abuse. 

You will understand just how upset I was to hear about King – a tiny cub with a mighty name who has had the worst possible start to his very short life. 

- Virginia McKenna OBE

Sadly, an increasing number of wild animals, just like King, are kept as exotic pets, including reptiles, amphibians, mammals, primates and big cats. Demand for exotic pets fuels both the legal and illegal wildlife trade: some animals may be bred in captivity to supply demand, some may be traded as surplus from zoos and circuses, while others are caught from the wild. Born Free opposes the exploitation of wild animals as pets and campaigns for national and international legislation to reduce and, where possible, end this practice.

King has had the worst possible start to his very short life, but with your help, we can give him a life worth living. Born Free has a permanent home ready for King at its long-established big cat sanctuary, the Jean Byrd Centre, at Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

At Shamwari, King will be given lifetime care in a spacious, safe and enriching environment, surrounded by the sights and sounds of Africa.

Wild and exotic animals should never ever be kept as pets, no matter how darling they look when they are small, and no matter how much we feel we could give them a wonderful home. Their lives should be in the wild: and to buy them means propping up a ghastly and cruel trade.

Help us to give King the freedom he deserves back in Africa. Every penny you give furthers our mission to keep wildlife in the wild. Please support Born Free now, while you are reading this; we would be so grateful.

 - Joanna Lumley OBE




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