Safe from harm for 25 years

18 October 2022


Our Rescue & Care team report on 25 years of providing lifetime care for rescued big cats with Shamwari Reserve in South Africa.

A picture of a magnificent male lion at Shamwari

This year marks 25 years since Born Free began our relationship with Shamwari and construction of our first big cat sanctuary, the Julie Ward Centre, on Shamwari Private Game Reserve started.  We have been busy providing loving care for life for rescued lions and leopards ever since!

Glen Vena

We opened our doors in 1997 to the first lions of the centre, Anthea and Raffi, who had in fact been rescued in 1995 and were in our Kent sanctuary until the brand new Julie Ward Centre was ready to accept them. These two lions had come from a rooftop bar in Tenerife and will always be remembered as the very first lions of our sanctuaries in South Africa.

The second sanctuary, the Jean Byrd Centre, was opened in 2006 and, over the years, both centres have rehomed an incredible 46 lions and leopards to date, with 14 lions and three leopards currently calling the centres home. From circuses to zoos, private owners to rooftop bars, lions and leopards have come to our centres from various deprived backgrounds and from 14 countries, including France, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain and Sudan. Most recently, we welcomed our four Lions of Lockdown in February 2022. Rescued from a circus where they had been forced to perform for around eleven years (or more in Bellone’s case), since arriving at Shamwari we are so happy to see they have started to come out of their shells and enjoy the natural landscape around them.

It is not only the Lions of Lockdown who have transformed since arriving at our centres on the Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Every lion who has come through our doors has changed as a result of a life designed to provide them with the utmost comfort and enjoyment. Some take longer than others to settle in, and indeed some understandably always hold scars – both physical and mental – of their previous lives, but the tranquillity they are given does wonders. For the first time for most of these animals, they are allowed to just be. They are no longer forced to endure being viewed by crowds or carry out a demeaning, unnatural trick. They finally live in a space which resembles the natural expanse they may have known if they had lived free.

“Louga, Angela, Bellone and Saida have adapted well to their new surroundings and love their new home,” explains their expert carer Glen Vena, Born Free’s Animal Care Manager at Shamwari. “Soon I will be doing snake training with them – teaching them to be wary of snakes – something our rescued cats must go through as snakes are able to go in and out of their enclosures and rescued cats have no natural fear of what snakes are capable of.

“Being situated with in Shamwari is probably the best thing ever,” Glen continues. “Our rescued cats gets to enjoy all the different smells and sounds that Shamwari offers and in many ways it stimulates our cats, our cats have the best care we can give them, we have a full time vet onsite, plus a dedicated care team caring full time for our cats. They have really good enclosures with night houses that enable us to do our cleaning and keeping the place neat.

“On arrival our cats will be nervous and can take weeks before they get used to their surroundings. But, once Shamwari starts to work its magic on our cats they are the most adorable cats ever, their roars echo through the valleys, where the wild lions answer back and acknowledge them. It’s wonderful to see our rescued lions marking their territories and sharpening their claws on trees as wild lions do.

“It is expensive to care for rescued lions, but it’s worth every cent and time spent, as long as cruelty continues, as long as the illegal exotic pet trade continues and the exploitation of wild animals continues. We need men and women to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless.”

At Shamwari, caring for one lion for one year costs around £5,000, but seeing animals transform and finally have comfort in life is worth any cost entailed! And rescuing these animals goes further than helping the individual alone. When guests are shown around the centres our team explains where the cats came from and why captive exploitation is wrong. Plus big relocations are often coupled with extensive media coverage, which helps to highlight these issues.

So, if you’re wondering how you can help us to help as many lions and other big cats as we can, then please donate to our new Saving Lions Together appeal, or adopt our magnificent lion King who lives out his days in comfort at the Jean Byrd Centre on the Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

Image (c)