FREE AT LAST: LIONS SAVED FROM HELL
One of the newly transported lions explores his new home at Ethiopia’s Ensessakotteh rescue centre
Sunday November 6,2011
By Stuart Winter
BORN free but sentenced to a life in captivity, four majestic lions can once again feel the sun on their flowing manes and the soft spring of lush grass under their paws.
The sight of these kings of the African savannah returning to their roots brought a glowing smile to one of the great animal champions last week.
Virginia McKenna, star of the 1966 cinema classic Born Free, was there to see two of the mighty big cats begin their epic journeyfrom their cramped confinement in a presidential palace compound to the nearest thing to true wilderness.
As the actress would well have known by playing the legendary Joy Adamson, attempting to release a captive lion back into the wild is fraught with disaster.
Elsa the lioness, heroine of the film, succumbed to disease soon after she was returned to the bush.
For lions Andrea and Janu, rescued five years ago and then kept captive in the Ethiopian capital, the future seems much brighter.
Today, along with two other rescued lions called Major and General, they will be able to prowl, saunter and rest in Ethiopia’s first wildlife rescue centre.
Their new-found joy is a fitting tribute to the work of the charity set up by Virginia and her late husband Bill Travers. The Born Free Foundation has become one of the world’s most respected and successful animal organisations, rescuing and conserving wild and endangered animals and campaigning to protect them from suffering.
After working closely with Ethiopian President Girma Wolde Giorgis, the Born Free Foundation and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority successfully relocated the lions to Ensessakotteh Rescue, Conservation and Education Centre.
Last night Miss McKenna told the Sunday Express: “It is wonderful to see these majestic lions at Ensessakotteh, where they will be able to live out their lives in spacious, natural ranges.
“Our sincere thanks must go to President Girma, whose support has enabled us to be here to witness these magnificent lions take their first steps on grass.”
Although the lions were not in dire circumstances they were kept in a compound with concreteslabs on the floor and a mesh surround in Addis Ababa.
As cubs, Andrea and Janu were rescued by a delegation from the Italian embassy when diplomats heard the animals were being sold on the side of the road by wildlife traders.
The country’s precious and unique creatures have long fallen foul of illicit dealers ready to make fast money by plundering Ethiopia’s natural heritage.
Likewise, Major and General were also rescued from street traders. Tragically, when soldiers saved the lions, a lioness kept captive with them managed to escape but was killed on the road.
Since their recovery 13 years ago Major and General have been kept in a dilapidated enclosure at an army base in Harar, a sad existence for predators that evolved to roam over vast distances.
The animals were tranquillised for the 16-hour journey to Ensessakotteh and after arriving all four big cats were given medical checks and appear healthy. They have now joined two other lions and six rescued cheetahs at the facility.
Summing up the challenging four days it took to carry out the operation senior veterinary consultant John Knight said: “Both moves have gone incredibly well with everyone in the team playing their part, it has resulted in a smooth transfer of both sets of animals.
“A clinical examination shows the lions are all very healthy and in good physical condition despite their unfortunate starts in life. They should do well in their new home.”
Born Free Ethiopia’s project director Stephen Brend said: “It took more than three months to build a spacious and secure home for them and I am delighted we were able to complete the work on time to give them a wonderful early Christmas present.”
Yeneneh Teka, director of wildlife development and protection directorate at EWCA, expressed his heartfelt appreciation for all the team members who participated in the relocation of the four cats.
He added: “I would particularly like to thank the Born Free Foundation for their concerned commitment to helping Ethiopia in its endeavours to fight illegal trafficking of live wild animals including lion and cheetah cubs.”