Today saw the successful release of the two magnificent ex-circus lions that the Born Free Foundation rescued from Bulgaria.
Jora and Black’s epic journey took them more than 10,500 miles, via the UK, and concluded on Sunday with their arrival at their overnight camp before final release this morning into their large, naturalistic accommodation at the award-winning Shamwari Game Reserve.
The two eight-year-old lions started their journey ‘home’ from a halfway house in central Bulgaria to Bourgas Airport on the Black Sea coast, late on Friday, 25th September. From there they were flown by Thomson Airways to London’s Gatwick Airport where legendary actress and Born Free co-founder, Virginia McKenna OBE, was waiting to give them a warm welcome.
Virginia said: “Born Free has successfully moved many captive animals but each occasion is unique in its own way. I am really happy to have seen these two lions at Gatwick before they head to their African homeland. I hope their story will inspire people to treat wild animals with respect and understanding, and never subject them to totally inappropriate existences in captivity. Jora and Black are flagship animals for the ending of all wild animals in circuses. Let all countries follow Bulgaria’s example.”
Jora and Black then travelled by road, in approved quarantine vehicles operated by JCS Livestock, to London’s Heathrow Airport where they were carefully prepared for the longest leg of their journey – a flight to Johannesburg International Airport. Much-loved Coronation Street actress Helen Worth, who launched the successful appeal for Jora and Black’s rescue in July and has been closely following their progress, took the opportunity to wish the brothers a fond farewell as they left the UK.
Helen said: “It is so exciting to see Jora and Black on the move to their wonderful new home. They are absolutely stunning animals and I feel really privileged to have had a chance to see them close up and on their way. I love Shamwari Game Reserve and I know they will have a lovely home there.”
After landing in Johannesburg, Jora and Black were transported by road. A convoy of Land Rover Discovery vehicles and trailers completed the journey to Shamwari Game Reserve, near Port Elizabeth. Born Free staff, friends and local media watched with delight as Jora and Black were released into their new enclosure, setting paws on Africa soil for the first time.
Mark Cameron, Jaguar Land Rover Experiential Marketing Director, said: “Our vehicles are designed with the power and ability to safely transport heavy and precious cargo. We were delighted to be able to support Born Free with the relocation and to ensure that Jora and Black had the most comfortable ride possible to their new home in Africa.”
Shamwari Group Head of Wildlife and Veterinarian, Dr Johan Joubert, and Born Free’s Big Cat Specialist, Tony Wiles, travelled with Jora and Black throughout their journey, making regular health checks.
Dr Joubert said: “I am delighted we have been able to take these animals and offer them a permanent home in the African bush. It is a stark contrast from the trucks in which they were first found. These animals have travelled well and show every sign of settling in and reestablishing some of their natural behaviour.”
Jora and Black’s new lives in their spacious, safe and enriching accommodation will be a world away from the circumstances in which they were rescued by Born Free, assisted by FOUR PAWS, earlier this year. Taken in as small cubs, the brothers were originally part of a circus act touring Eastern Europe and Turkey. Following the Bulgarian government’s much-welcomed ban on the use of wild mammals in circuses, the lions were left to languish in a stifling beast wagon since the summer of 2014, until the owners agreed to re-home them with Born Free.
They will now be given lifetime care by Born Free at Shamwari. To donate £3 to help Jora and Black, text LIONS to 70007. £10 will buy a health-enhancing vitamin boost for both lions. £20 will buy one day’s good food for both lions. £75 will buy one week’s loving care for one lion. £3,900 would provide one year’s expert care for one lion, good food and any medical treatment needed.
To find out more about Jora and Black’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.