Two lions survive 10‚000km trip to South African sanctuary

Former zoo lion Nelson and confiscated “exotic pet” Ciam are this weekend exploring their new spacious and natural enclosures in the bush at the Born Free sanctuary at the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape‚ after a 10‚000km trip from Europe.

The Born Free organisation said Nelson‚ a 17 year old lion‚ was rescued from a French zoo in April 2015 when it fell into liquidation.

Ciam‚ two and a half years old‚ was bought as a cub from a circus and then kept illegally in a cramped cage in a garden in southern France. His rescue made international headlines in November 2015.

Accompanied by Born Free Foundation co-founder and actress‚ Virginia McKenna OBE‚ the two lions were successfully transported from their temporary home at a rescue centre in Belgium where they were prepared for the trip‚ via Germany‚ to Johannesburg and then to Port Elizabeth and the nearby Shamwari reserve.

For now‚ “life is now‚ at last‚ worth living”‚ McKenna said of the lions’ new home.

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“Nelson‚ after 14 years of imprisonment and about two years at the Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in Belgium‚ and Ciam‚ bought from a terrible circus by someone who kept him illegally in his back yard‚ will now have a new life at the Born Free sanctuary at Shamwari. Seeing them take their first steps into their huge natural enclosures was utterly joyful. At last they are free to live where lions belong and will be treated with the care and respect they deserve. How lucky I was to be there to share the moment.”

Nelson is now living at Born Free’s Julie Ward Animal Rescue and Education Centre‚ while Ciam’s new home is at the Jean Byrd Centre. Joe Cloete‚ Shamwari Group General Manager‚ said: “We‚ here at Shamwari Game Reserve are very proud to continue our close working relationship with Born Free‚ which now marks 20 years‚ and to be a part of not only supporting this great work‚ but also raising awareness of the plight of many big cats worldwide.”

Born Free said an increasing number of wild animals are kept as exotic pets‚ including reptiles‚ amphibians‚ mammals‚ primates and big cats.

“The demand for these animals fuels both the legal and illegal wildlife trade: some animals may be bred in captivity to supply demand‚ some may be traded as surplus from zoos and circuses‚ while others are caught from the wild. Born Free opposes the exploitation of wild animals as pets and campaigns for national and international legislation to reduce and‚ where possible‚ end this practice.”

Campaigning to prevent captive animal suffering and to phase out zoos has been at the heart of Born Free since its formation in 1984. This year‚ Born Free has gone ‘back to its roots’‚ with a focus on challenging the exploitation of wild animals in captivity and the multi-billion pound global zoo industry through its Beyond the Bars campaign.

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