10 June 2017

Virginia McKenna Takes Two Lions Home to Africa

"This is the best moment of all – when the door is opened. It’s the perfect moment for the rest of his life"

International wildlife charity, Born Free, has today released a heart-warming short film of its Co-Founder Virginia McKenna OBE’s emotional 10,000 km journey to rehome lions Nelson and Ciam at Born Free’s Big Cat sanctuaries in Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa.

The film, shot last month and also featuring Born Free Patrons Jim Moir (Vic Reeves) and Nancy Sorrell, includes the tear-jerking moment Nelson and Ciam step out onto African soil for the first time.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the first lions rescued by Born Free at Shamwari Game Reserve. Virginia was there for the first rescue and has witnessed nearly every arrival since then. She said: “The emotional feeling that I think everybody has is even more profound because you cannot believe that from 20 years ago until now we’re still allowing wild animals to live in the most hideous conditions. It beggars belief that human beings haven’t really learnt to be more understanding and sensitive about wild creatures’ nature and that they also feel all the things we do. It makes me more determined to instill and inspire a different kind of feeling between people and captive wild creatures.”

Nelson was rescued from a French zoo that fell into liquidation in April 2015. Ciam was confiscated from a garden in Southern France where his owner kept him illegally as an ‘exotic pet’ in November 2015. Both lions were rescued by French animal rescue charity Fondation 30 Millions d'Amis and were living in a temporary home at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, Belgium, until Born Free offered them lifetime care in South Africa.

Nelson and Ciam are now settling into their new lives at Shamwari. Born Free’s Animal Care Manager, Glen Vena, said: “Ciam looked at home from day one. Just like a lion, he owned his enclosure and his presence is felt by our other lions at the centre. Nelson looks great too and eats very well, however he is going to take a bit more time to get used to his new home. He is exploring his main camp slowly, but does not look scared or uncomfortable at all. He is just being him.”

Born Free’s campaign Beyond the Bars aims to raise awareness of the plight of captive wild animals worldwide. The campaign aims to expose animal suffering and neglect, recommend improvements in captive animal welfare and the enforcement of legislation, and to call for the closure of substandard zoos. For more information, see www.bornfree.org.uk/beyondthebars.

Help Born Free with future Big Cat rescues: https://give.bornfree.org.uk/products/you-can-send-this-lion-home-990

Link to film: https://youtu.be/4GsP9bAEdrE
‘Nelson and Ciam go home to Africa’ by Raw Cut Television for Born Free. Produced and directed by Blake McGrow

Image: © Born Free/Eva-Lotta Jansson
For more high-res images see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/132476364@N06/albums/with/72157682368503356