International wildlife charity The Born Free Foundation has announced that Jora and Black, the two rescued ex-circus lions from Bulgaria, have embarked on an epic journey of more than 16 800 kilometres to begin new lives in their ancestral home of Africa.
The two seven-year-old brothers were rescued by Born Free in July this year from a cramped metal beast wagon near Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, assisted by international animal welfare organisation Four Paws. The lions’ terrible plight made international headlines and a major appeal was launched by Coronation Street actress, Helen Worth.
A delighted Helen said: “It is truly incredible that these majestic animals have spent their lives from being small cubs cooped up in a circus trailer. I am so excited to be part of this incredible venture to rehome them to the wonderful Shamwari Game Reserve. The public response has been heart-warming and to finally see them set foot on African soil will be most rewarding.”
The lions will be flown from Bourgas airport to London Gatwick by Thomson Airways, taking the last holiday flight of the season. Eagerly awaiting their arrival will be actress and Born Free Foundation Co-Founder, Virginia McKenna OBE, who will make a special trip airside to greet Jora and Black.
Virginia said: “It’s fantastic to see the animals have travelled so well. They still have a long way to go but I am really happy that with the generous public support we are able to offer them a wonderful new home with our friends at Shamwari Game Reserve. They deserve no less.”
Jora and Black will then travel by road in an approved quarantine vehicle to London Heathrow. Waiting to meet them there will be Helen Worth.
The lions will then commence the longest leg of their mammoth journey, flying from Heathrow to Johannesburg. On arrival in South Africa they will be transported by a convoy of Land Rover Discovery vehicles and trailers to their new home at the Born Free Jean Byrd Education and Rescue Centre, at the Shamwari Game Reserve, just outside Port Elizabeth. Here they will eventually be released into spacious, safe and enriching natural accommodation, surrounded by the sights and sounds of Africa.
Taken in as small cubs, Jora and Black 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 animals in circuses, the lions were left to languish in a stifling beast wagon since the summer of 2014, until their owners agreed to re-home them with Born Free.
With Jora and Black every step of the way will be the expert care of Shamwari Group Head of Wildlife and Veterinarian, Dr Johan Joubert, and Born Free’s Big Cat Expert, Tony Wiles. Speaking in transit, Tony said: “The lions are doing really well and we are very happy with their progress. They are travelling well in their crates and we are keeping a close eye on them throughout the journey, with regular health checks and water stops.”
To donate £3 to this important cause, text LIONS to 70007 (UK). For more information on Born Free visit www.bornfree.org.uk.
(Photo: © Born Free Foundation)