Two lionesses born to circus life get first taste of freedom
Maggie and Sonja have spent their eight years of life performing in a German circus
After eight years in captivity in a German circus, two rescued lionesses are settling into their new home at the Born Free Foundation’s Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa.
Maggie and Sonja spent the first eight years of their lives making regular appearances in the circus, performing for the crowds and living in a circus trailer in appalling conditions.
When the animals were confiscated by the German authorities in 2013, the Natuurhulpcentrum, a wild animal rescue and rehabilitation centre in Belgium, stepped in and offered them temporary accommodation.
There, they underwent rehabilitation and treatment for wounds acquired while living in the circus, before being declared fit to travel to a permanent new home in Africa.
Organised by the Born Free Foundation, they travelled from Natuurhulpcentrum to London’s Heathrow airport on January 20, from where they made the 6,000 mile journey across two continents, flying on the inaugural Kenya Airways Dreamliner flight to Johannesburg via Nairobi, and sponsored by the airline.
After touching down in Johannesburg on Wednesday, January 21, they were taken by land on the last leg of the journey to their new home at the award winning Shamwari Game Reserve in Port Elizabeth.
The overland journey was in specially arranged trailers, towed by Land Rover Discovery vehicles, which also sponsored the trip.
At the reserve they were released into a large natural enclosure, where they could begin to experience and get used to the sights and sounds of Africa for the first time.
Shamwari Wildlife Director and vet, Dr Johan Joubert, and Born Free’s big cat expert Tony Wiles, were present at every step of the journey.
Joubert says, “I am very satisfied with the rescue and translocation of the lionesses from Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium to Shamwari Game Reserve.
“Although it was a long journey for them, they travelled well. It was snowing when they left, two days ago, and now they are adapting to a hot African summer’s day.
“They experienced natural grass and trees today for the first time in their life. I am sure they have a good life ahead of them here.”
Wiles, who has more than 20 years of experience working with big cats, is pleased that the lionesses are already growing in confidence in their new environment.
He adds, “These are relatively young cats, and so despite being a bit tired from the journey, they should adapt quickly to their new surroundings.
“Already they are exploring the enclosure’s natural features and taking the opportunity to stretch their legs and bask in the southern hemisphere’s summer sunshine.
“After spending most of their lives in cramped and squalid conditions, it feels great to be able to offer these girls a safe, happy and natural place to live out the rest of their lives. That’s what it’s all about.”
To find out more about Maggie and Sonja’s new life, meet some of Born Free’s other rescued animals, or make a donation to enable the Foundation to continue its work with some of the world’s most vulnerable animals, visit: www.bornfree.org.uk.