At the Born Free Foundation, we believe in two very important ethics: one is that the individual animal matters and a second is that we should keep wildlife in the wild. Cheetahs belong in the Horn of Africa, not forced into the pet trade in the Middle East; elephants belong in the forests of west Africa or the savannahs of east Africa, not languishing in captivity in urban zoos; lions belong in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, not traveling in metal “beast wagons” as part of a traveling circus.

The need is great — too many animals suffering at the hands of humans. And, our capacity to help them all is limited. Can we get them out of captivity? Can we afford their relocation and lifetime, humane care? Can we give them lives worth living?


Hope for Bulgaria’s Two Remaining Circus Lions

When we were approached by the Bulgarian government to help find a home for the last two circus lions in the country, our team leapt into action. We already work closely with European government leaders on other animal welfare issues, and certainly welcomed Bulgaria’s move to ban the use of wild mammals in circuses.

Our intrepid Big Cat Consultant, Tony Wiles, and renowned veterinarian, John Knight, were dispatched to assess the lions. They were both sharing a 8 by 8 foot square metal circus trailer, with little room to move and limited access to water. Although their cages were clean, there was just a small log for them to play with and a scattering of wood shavings for a bed. Luckily, both the lions appeared healthy, but their muscles were stiff from the lack of exercise. And, the trailer had good ventilation, but there was little shade. With the heat of the Bulgarian summer on its way, the trailers would soon become unbearably hot. Check out Jora and Black in the video below:


The lions, “Jora” and “Black,” are brothers and are clearly great friends, too. Black is more dominant, and often Jora will suck on his tail. They have spent most of their lives performing under the “Big Top,” traveling throughout Bulgaria and Turkey. Born in a zoo and purchased by their owner to entertain in the circus when they were just tiny cubs, these lions have never known the freedom of their wild cousins. Since the end of summer 2014, when the government ban came into force, they have spent their days in the small circus trailer. Although the lions are clearly much loved by their owner, their current home is unsuitable for such majestic animals. Aware that Born Free could offer much greater freedom and the feel of grass under their feet, the owner has agreed, with the help of the Bulgarian government, to give the lions to Born Free so that we may rehome them at our rescue center in South Africa.


Moving Black and Jora to a Sanctuary

Working with our partners at the animal charity Four Paws, we are initially moving them to a temporary new home, outside the circus trailer, where we can guarantee provision of regular food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.

Then, with the support of compassionate citizens across the globe, we can plan for their historic move to South Africa! For these two lions, after seven years in a circus, life at the award-winning Shamwari Game Reserve on the Eastern Cape of South Africa will surely be practically incomprehensible. They will be able to enjoy one of our three to four-acre bush enclosures, with views across the reserve. What a change for two young lions used to looking through the bars of their cage, the only respite being the times when they are taken out to perform under the bright lights of the circus tent. Not only will they enjoy the best standard of care, they will be able to make friends with the other lions at the sanctuary — who, just like them, have been rescued from lives of entertainment and unsuitable conditions.

Ask a child where lions live, and surely he or she will respond: “Africa.” Jora matters. Black matters. And, the sooner we can get them from Bulgaria to Africa, the better. Born Free will give them as close to a wild life as we can. It’s the ethic we live by, and an ethic in which we take great pride.

Lead image source: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr