23 September 2022


A large male lion lying in the sunshine surrounded by green plants and shrubs

NELSON: 2000 – 2022

We are heartbroken to report that our beloved Nelson has passed away at the grand old age of 22.

Nelson arrived at Shamwari in 2017 aged 17 – already older than most lions live in the wild. He was a magnificent, large lion and unusually, preferred to be on his own rather than living with a partner. This didn’t stop him from spending time watching and roaring alongside the other Shamwari residents during the last few years of his long life, and he was best known for being loud and proud, as well as having an enormous appetite!

Nelson’s happy retirement at Shamwari was in stark contrast to the suffering of his early life. He spent many years in a cramped enclosure at a French zoo, before it went into liquidation after its owner was arrested for wildlife trading. After his rescue, he was temporarily cared for by our friends at Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium before joining the Born Free family, at the Julie Ward Centre, where he found peace and comfort in his old age.

In July 2022, Nelson was found to be suffering with a painful form of arthritis which affected his back legs. He was given treatment, but unfortunately the condition was incurable, and his mobility deteriorated. On 15th September, our specialist vet team made the difficult decision to euthanise Nelson. Right up until this summer he was in great shape with no known maladies whatsoever, so it is a huge comfort to know he didn’t suffer a prolonged illness.

Nelson was much loved by his carers at Shamwari, who will feel his loss terribly. Catherine Gillson, Born Free’s Manager at Shamwari, said: “Whilst we will all miss Nelson, we are happy that the final years of his life were spent in comfort and ease. However long an animal lives after we have provided them with sanctuary, the chance of happiness is the most important thing we can offer each and every individual who passes through our centres’ gates. I’ll particularly miss Nelson’s incredible roar which rang out like clockwork to welcome visitors.”

Born Free’s Rescue and Care Officer, Flo Blackbourn, added: “I was privileged to see Nelson in person when I visited Shamwari this summer. He was a very big lion who struck me as headstrong and in his element. He started to have some mobility issues which were being treated when I met him in summer, but beforehand he appeared to be in perfect health – impressive for such an old boy. The high quality care that he received at this time allowed him to live comfortably for another couple of months. I believe that the best thing we can give the animals we are fortunate enough to help is a good life, and the second is dignity in death. I know, having seen his care first hand, that this was achieved with Nelson.”

Image © Blake McGrow