A lion behind the bars of a cage

Zoo Rescue

Born Free is proud to have rescued and rehomed individual animals from several zoos.

Sadly, the opportunity to rescue wild animals from zoos does not occur very often. In most cases the animals are legally owned, there often are no minimum standards in place for the zoo to abide by or breaches in legislation or laws.

Born Free has, where possible, been able to rescue or rehome numerous animals from zoos, providing them with lifetime care at spacious, naturalistic sanctuaries. Although some of these animals have now passed away over the years, you can read more about their stories below:


Two images side by side of Sandro the tiger - one in a zoo and one in a sanctuary

Left, Sandro at the zoo. Right Sandro at the sanctuary (c) Animanatura

Sandro the 15-year-old tiger lived in poor conditions at Ayamonte Zoo, Spain. Thankfully, the zoo was closed in 2019 following many years of campaigning by Born Free and other animal welfare organisations. The animals were rehomed to better conditions. Sandro had been given a temporary home by our friends at Natuurhulpcentrum, Belgium, until Born Free rehomed him to Animanatura Wild Sanctuary, Italy in 2021.



Two images side by side of Grivet monkeys - one chained and the other in a sanctuary

Left, grivet monkeys when confiscated. Right, the monkeys at Ensessa Kotteh (c) Bereket Girma

In 2021, Born Free’s team in Ethiopia helped the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) and local police with the confiscation of four grivet monkeys who were being held in terrible conditions at an Amusement Park on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The poor monkeys were tethered by chains or ropes, handled for ‘entertainment’, and fed an inappropriate diet of biscuits and fruit. All four grivets were rescued and given a new home at our Ensessa Kotteh rescue centre.



Two images side by side of Zeiss the leopard and Mowgli the black leopard at Shamwari

Zeiss (left) and Mowgli at Shamwari (c) BF Shamwari

Leopards Mowgli and Zeiss were rescued from Bloemfontein Zoo in South Africa, when the zoo was closed following numerous animal welfare infringements. Working with our friends at Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary and Bloemfontein SPCA, they were rescued and given a lifetime home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in 2020.



Two lionesses lying next to each other

Alpha and Cora (c) Panthera Africa

Lionesses Alpha and Cora were confiscated from a bankrupt zoo in southern Spain. A team from Natuurhulpcentrum, a rescue centre in Belgium, teamed up with Dutch animal rights organisation, Stichting AAP, to collect Alpha and Cora from the zoo, overseen by Spanish animal charity FAADA. They were both temporarily cared for by Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium before being transfer to newly constructed bush enclosures at the Born Free Rescue Section at Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, in 2019, with the support of British Airways Holidays.

Watch our short film here



Two images of a lion side by side - one in a cage and one at a sanctuary

Left, Nelson before arriving at the sanctuary. Right, Nelson at Shamwari (c) BF Shamwari

Nelson the lion was rescued from Parc Zoologique du Bouy, France, in 2015 by French organisation ‘Fondation 30 Million d’Amis’, when the zoo fell into liquidation and the owner was arrested for wildlife trafficking. It is unclear how long Nelson was at the zoo, but he was believed to be around 17 years old at time of rehoming. He was rehabilitated at Natuurhulpcentrum, a wildlife rescue centre in Belgium, before Born Free gave him a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa, in 2017.

Watch our short film here



Two foxes lying inside a barren cage

Animals at Haramaya Zoo

In 2013, Born Free rescued six animals from a zoo at Haramaya University in Ethiopia. These were two black-backed jackals, Hara and Maya; two hyenas, Tigeste and Uwerr; and two baboons, who had languished for many years in small, pitiful cages. The recue had taken two long years to negotiate, but we were finally able to move these animals and provide them with lifetime care at our rescue centre in Ethiopia ‘Ensessa Kotteh’.



Two pictures of Bella the lioness - on the left, at a zoo and on the right at a sanctuary, relaxing with a companion

Left, Bella at the zoo. Right, Bella and Simba together (c) Born Free

Bella, a lioness with one eye, was rescued from a substandard zoo in Romania in 2009. Bella was relocated to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi. In 2014, Bella was introduced to male lion Simba who had been rescued from a circus.

Watch our short film here



Left: a leopard in a small cage. Right: two leopards relaxing in the open air

Left, The leopards in the zoo. Right, Rhea and Roxanne at Shamwari

In 2009, three leopards, Leda and her daughters, Roxanne and Rhea, were rehomed from a small cage at Limassol Zoo in Cyprus to our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa, following a long-running campaign. The Mayor of Limassol pledged that the zoo would not replace them.



Left: two leopards in a cage and Right: a leopard rolling in long grass

Left: Sirius and Pitou at the zoo. Right, Pitou enjoying his new home in South Africa (c) C Wright

Following a lengthy 10-year campaign, leopard siblings Sirius and Pitou were rehomed from the cliff-top Monaco Zoo in 2008, when the decision was made to reduce the number of large animals kept. They were given a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.



Two images on Sinbad the lion, one in the zoo and one looking happy at Shamwari

Left: Sinbad before his rescue. Right: Sinbad happy at Shamwari (c) Catriona Wiles

In 2007, Sinbad the lion was rescued from a cramped concrete cage at a substandard zoo in Romania and given a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Sinbad was half the size of a normal lion due to poor nutrition when young. In 2015, Sinbad was introduced to Achee, a lioness rescued from a car park in Romania in 2004.



Left: A lioness behind bars. Right: Two lions sleeping on the grass

Left: Jools before her rescue. Right: Jools and Jerry asleep at Shamwari

In 2007, lions Jools and her sons, Jerry and James were rescued from squalid conditions in a Romanian zoo. They were given a new home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa



Left: A lioness in a barren cage. Right a lion and lioness lying under a shady tree

Left: Stella in the zoo enclosure. Right: Stella and Aslan

Lions Stella and Dimitris lived in cramped conditions in a zoo in northern Greece. In 2000, they were rescued and given a new life at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Following Dimitris’ death, Stella made a new friendship with rescued lion Aslan.



Left: A leopard behind bars. Right: A leopard lying in the long green grass

Left: Kuma at the zoo. Right: Kuma at Shamwari

Kuma the leopard was sold as a pet after his mother was killed by poachers in the Ivory Coast. He was then kept at Abidjan Zoo until his behaviour was deemed ‘unpredictable’. In 1999, Born Free rehomed Kuma at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.



Left: two lions in a concrete cage. Right: Two lions snuggling together

Left: Aslan and Gilda before their rescue. Right: Aslan and Gilda

In 1996, assisted by BBC’s ‘Challenge Anneka’, lions Aslan and Gilda were rescued from Athens’ National Gardens. After three years in a sanctuary in Kent, they were transferred to our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.



Left: Two tigers in a cage. Right: Two tigers drinking from a stream

Left: Bill and Ginny in the zoo. Right: Bill and Ginny at Bannerghatta

In 1996, we rescued our very first animals from a zoo. Two tigers, Bill and Ginny, were rescued from a closed down, squalid zoo in Belgium and rehomed to a sanctuary in Kent. Following Bill’s death, Ginny was transferred to her ancestral homeland in India and given a new home at Bannerghatta Tiger Sanctuary in 2002.


Born Free regularly receives calls for help about captive animals in need. Sadly, there are many more animals in need of rescue than there are sanctuary spaces worldwide.

It is vital we use precious sanctuary spaces not only to rescue animals in need, but to also highlight the problems facing captive wildlife (for example, private ownership, trade, circuses, and substandard zoos). We therefore have many considerations to make when we are informed about a captive animal in need.

View our flowchart to give you an idea of what we must take into account when we receive information about a captive animal from supporters.