New life for rescued leopards

On World Leopard Day, we welcome mother and daughter, Alda and Ginny, who have arrived at our sanctuary following a life in captivity.

A female leopard, cautiously taking her first steps inside her new sanctuary enclosure

Alda immediately after being released into her new home © Lyndon Brandt

Confiscated from dire captive conditions at an illegal breeding facility, and saved from an uncertain future, two leopards are now finally settling into the safety and sanctuary of their forever home, at Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary, at Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa.   

After years addressing legal issues and complex paperwork, an incredible journey of more than eight thousand miles, and the dedication of organisations across the globe, the mother and daughter, believed to be around fourteen and eight years respectively, have finally arrived on African soil, where they will be given expert care at our sanctuary for the rest of their lives.

After their epic journey, the leopards were released on Wednesday into a still, bright morning surrounded by sunshine and birdsong. Initially, both Alda and Ginny took tentative steps out of their crates, sniffing the South African soil beneath their paws and carefully examining their new surroundings. The animal care team at Shamwari were thrilled to see both leopards looking relaxed and very quickly starting to explore the natural bush of their 2.5 acre enclosure, taking in the sights sounds and smells of their ‘forever’ home.

Within half an hour the mother and daughter had found each other and were reunited, both looking well and enjoying the privacy of the thickets and dense bush. The Born Free team will now be monitoring the leopards closely giving them the dedicated, expert care they deserve, for the rest of their lives.


A female leopard emerging from a crate, into a South African sanctuary enclosure

Ginny stepping out of her crate onto South African soil © Lyndon Brandt


Watch Alda and Ginny’s journey, and see their first steps on South African soil, below:


Following news that the pair had arrived at Shamwari, Dame Virginia McKenna, said: “To know that this beautiful mother and daughter are, at this moment, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of their ancestral homeland for the first time is enough to make the heart sing. No animal, certainly not the majestic leopard, is on this earth to be abused and exploited for human gain. Born Free won’t stop fighting to end the cruel and unnecessary illegal wildlife trade which could, so easily, have been the fate for these incredible animals.”

Captive exploitation 

Alda and Ginny’s new life at Shamwari could not be more different to the conditions they have endured. As victims of the illegal trade in and trafficking of wild animals, up until 2017, they were being kept, along with many other animals, in terrible conditions at an unlawful breeding facility in Śrem near Poznań, Poland. When police and authorities raided the private farm that year, they found creatures crammed in dirty, inadequate conditions, some living in their own excrement and others without access to the outdoors. Alda and Ginny were confined to a tiny, dark, barren cell with very little outside space.

Whilst the pair’s potential fate will never be fully known, it’s possible they could have been sold into a life of exploitation in a circus, into captivity in an unaccredited zoo, or even as body ‘parts’, fuelling the vile international trade in big-cat skins and bones, used by some for ‘traditional medicine’. All distressing outcomes for wild animals subject to the unnecessary cruelty of the illegal wildlife trade.

The facility in Śrem was subsequently shut down by the Polish authorities and the leopards, along with other animals, were confiscated.


A leopard lies on a small shelf , behind bars in a tiny enclosure

Before being rescued, Alda and Ginny suffered in this tiny and totally unsuitable enclosure (c) Natuurhulpcentrum

The road to Shamwari 

A team of experts from Belgian wildlife rescue centre, Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC), travelled to collect Alda and Ginny and found them with filthy coats and showing signs of malnourishment. Since 2017, the dedicated staff at NHC have cared for the mother and daughter, giving them the specialist care they’ve needed to begin recovering from their ordeal.
NHC was only ever meant to be a temporary home for the pair. At the time of confiscation, the Polish authorities gave permission for the leopards to be taken to Belgium, but it has taken a number of years, and many hundreds of hours of hard work, to secure all the correct documentation and certificates, so that plans could finally be put in place for a permanent home for the leopards.

Fortunately, we were able to offer that permanent home and have been working alongside NHC ever since to meticulously plan their re-homing in South Africa.
Born Free has four decades of experience rehoming big cats, but the task of relocating two grown leopards is complex and time-consuming. Many hundreds of hours of planning, evaluation and care has been undertaken by Born Free’s experts and specialists, together with our valued supporters and partners, Natuurhulpcentrum, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, Olsen Animal Trust, Cargolux and BidAir, to ensure the safety, comfort and security of Alda and Ginny throughout their journey, and beyond.

We are grateful to all parties that have contributed to the success of this relocation. In particular, the Olsen Animal Trust which has generously donated funds to cover Alda and Ginny’s lifetime care. This truly team effort means these beautiful leopards now have a new life in their natural, wild bush enclosure under the South African sun.


A female leopard striding across a dry, grassy landscape

Ginny exploring her new home at Shamwari © Lyndon Brandt

Will you help us end the cruel trade in wild animals? 

Following the relocation of Alda and Ginny, Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy, said, “While the purpose for which these poor leopards and so many other wild animals were illegally bred and kept in the Polish facility isn’t entirely clear, it’s highly likely that, if they hadn’t been rescued, their future would have been very bleak indeed.

“The trade in wild animals, both legal and illegal, is a major cause of biodiversity loss, and one of the principal risk factors for the emergence of future pandemics, as well as being devastating for the individual welfare of countless wild animals. Born Free works tirelessly to end the illegal trade in wildlife, and to ensure any legal trade is robustly regulated to protect the welfare of affected animals and eliminate any associated risks to wildlife conservation and animal or human health.”

Find out more about our work to end the illegal wildlife trade.

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Close up of a leopard snarling through metal bars