Working with lions

8 March 2022


Catherine Gillson, Born Free Manager at our big cat sanctuary in Shamwari, South Africa, explains why she loves working with rescued lions and watching them transform. 

On this, the Born Free Year of the Lion, we have reason to celebrate! After finally getting our Lions of Lockdown safely to their ancestral Africa and forever home with us at Shamwari, the excitement, worry and long working hours in preparation, we can focus on making sure they adapt under the care and close watch of our wonderful Animal Care Team, led by Glen Vena.

For me, the word ‘resilience’ comes to mind as a theme this year. The resilience of these lions, having to adapt and being brave enough to trust and carry on. We can learn from these incredible animals as we find ourselves with similar challenges in an unprecedented time.

In the group of the four Lions of Lockdown, three are lionesses with very different temperaments, all complimenting each other. Thank goodness we can recognise these qualities in individuals and draw from each strength to create harmony as they have done in their new home. This was evident from the moment we met them and upon their release into their new enclosure with us. Bellone and Angela are gentler in character with Saida the female that is feistier and more protective with all three looking after Louga, the male in the ‘pride’. 

After a long and arduous journey from France to South Africa, the lionesses were more eager to leave their crates and take a courageous step into the unknown. Louga was the last to leave his crate after he had sensed that his females had taken the leap. All courageous in doing so.

Meanwhile the handsome King, rescued from the illegal pet trade in France and brought to Shamwari in 2018, is the epitome of resilience of spirit. After being tortured for human entertainment as a mere cub it is remarkable to see him grow into the confident and relaxed young adult he is today with us at our Sanctuary in the north of Shamwari.

To work with these big cats and get to know their personalities is a privilege that is bittersweet. I wish they had all had the life of freedom a wild animal should be born into, but as human nature is, I love that they have given me a deeper understanding that all creatures are individuals and should be protected in the wild as such.

All of this would not be possible without the Born Free teams unwavering passion for the animals and the supporters who make it all possible. Thank you to everyone who donated to the Lions of Lockdown and who has adopted King