MOTHER EARTH is a very unusual but symbolic statue that greets visitors to the Southern Centre of Born Free in Shamwari.
ELSA THE LION
The Born Free Foundation was started by the English actors, husband and wife team after t travelled to Kenya and made the now famous film about Elsa, the lion. They both became impassioned about Africa and its wildlife and vowed to do something in return. A few years later Born Free was born and has programs worldwide although its home base is still in the UK.
The Born Free Big Cat campaign started in 1998. This centre in the southern Shamwari Game Park grounds was opened in 1998 in memory of Julie Ward, a young girl who loved Africa and its wild animals. She was murdered a day after her vehicle broke down in the bush on her way to see and photograph the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara.
We were lucky enough to meet and be shown around by Glen Vena, the Animal Care Manager at Born Free. He has eight supportive staff divided equally between the north and south centres. Catherine Gilson is the Manager and loves her work at Born Free for ten years with her husband and two children in residence.
Both centres are within the Shamwari grounds and receive equal funding from the Born Free Foundation in the UK and Shamwari for their running costs. Any monies granted or gifted to either centre by visitors or sponsors support that centre directly.
The Born Free Foundation rescued 31 cats between 1995 and 2005. It not only recovers maltreated cats but support campaigns for their conservation and the cease of the animal fur and bush meat trade. Less than 16,500 African lions exist today and are classed as ‘vulnerable’.
The centres focus on rehousing of lions and leopards that have been cruelly treated in the past, often from zoos or circuses all around the world especially Eastern Europe. Breeding from these animals is not allowed. This is a strict regulation and the animals are actively prevented from doing so because of their background.
They also act as an education centre to teach especially under privileged children to take more interest in these animals and to learn how to conserve them. They have a vehicle that collect groups from local schools to bring them to a centre for a day of fun and education.
Whilst we were there they were making an educational video in the centre with Catherine’s and another staff member’s little daughter being taught about animals by Glen – a natural with kids and being in front of a camera!
Local communities are also employed at the centres to help promote their knowledge, interest, responsibility and compassion.
The southern centre houses a very small lion, Sinbad, who suffered from nutritional osteodystrophy. He was quite endearing as he looked like a miniature lion. He is not allowed to grow more than 110kg as his weak bones will not support his weight. He was severely malnourished which led to his now permanent condition.
They also had two females and three sibling leopards which had been recently re-housed to the northern centre as they were in the process of re-fencing their bush enclosures to eliminate old rusting fences. Any work such as this is outsourced to Shamwari staff and their contractors as needed.
This bush camp gives these beautiful animals space and dignity to live out their lives in peace.
The centre is always looking for sponsors and benefactors as there is always something needed or required to keep the centre running.
Read our other post on the northern Born Free Foundatian Centre for another fascinating story
For more information on Born Free, go to:
[Photos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]