Kenya Airways’ partners in conservation, the Born Free Foundation has established a major wildlife rescue centre to care for badly treated animals
International wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation has recently undertaken two remarkable rescues in Ethiopia. Here, just 30km (18 miles) from the bustling capital city Addis Ababa, Born Free, with their partners the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, has established a major wildlife rescue centre, with the fantastic support of His Excellency President Girma. Named Ensessakotteh, which means ‘animal footprint’ in Amharic, the centre is the first of its kind in the country. The 77-hectare site is home to many animals rescued from lives of misery in tiny cages, and from the illegal trade in wild animals including lions, cheetahs, servals, caracals, monkeys and even giant tortoises.
PEACE & SANCTUARY
Amid undulating hills, indigenous trees and beautiful plants, Born Free has created spacious enclosures where the animals can find peace and sanctuary, explore the dense undergrowth and relax under spreading acacias. Many have previously known terrible suffering or undergone terrifying ordeals, but with Born Free they can recover, and receive expert care for the rest of their lives, or, where possible, be prepared for release back to the wild. Ensessakotteh is also developing a veterinary clinic, nature trails and an education facility where school children and other visitors can learn about and appreciate Ethiopia’s diverse native animals and plants.
The first of the two recent Ethiopian rescues took place in the far east of the country, 500km (310 miles) away at Haramaya University Zoo. Here, in pitiful small cages, two hyenas, two jackals and two baboons had languished for many years. Born Free’s Ethiopia team, led by Country Representative Stephen Brend, arrived early at the squalid little zoo and prepared the animals for their move, which had taken Born Free nearly two years to negotiate. Once safely crated and comfortable, the animals’ 12-hour drive to Ensessakotteh could begin. At last, late in the evening, an elated Stephen reported: “We’ve made it! All animals are OK. Our vet is doing a full assessment of each one.”
It is true that none of the species rescued were endangered or of ‘conservation importance’, but nothing excuses keeping them in such terrible conditions. There was real joy amongst the Born Free team in seeing them walk on grass for the very first time. “Saving these few individuals made the world a better place!” said Stephen Brend.
This was true for all the animals, but the story of the big adult hyena, who had repeatedly and neurotically circled her barren concrete cage at the zoo, was particularly moving.
“It had been deeply disturbing to watch her pace back and forth at Haramaya,” said Stephen. “We worried she might be permanently mentally damaged, but just two days after our rescue she lay happily in the shade of an acacia tree, settled and relaxed, free from fear and distress.”
Born Free has named the hyena Tigeste, which means ‘patience’. How wonderful to have transformed her life. Sadly, the world of the second rescued hyena, who is just a youngster – hasn’t changed as much, as Born Free has discovered she is blind. She had only been in the zoo for about three months before the rescue, and was most likely caught from the wild before she was weaned from her mother. Whether it was this lack of maternal nutrition that affected her eyesight or not, Born Free cannot tell. Nicknamed Uwerr, which means ‘blind’, Born Free is working to provide her with the care she needs. For both these hyenas, the most valuable welfare component will be companionship. Born Free hopes that this will become a reality and plan to introduce Tigeste and Uwerr to each other when the time is right.
The Haramaya rescue is the first time Born Free has ever rescued jackals. Although they look like foxes, jackals are in fact members of the dog family. The two in Born Free’s care are now named Hara and Maya and clearly love being surrounded by grass, trees and bushes. Unfortunately, they remain extremely nervous of people and run away as soon as approached. Born Free hopes they will gradually settle down. The dream is that one day the door to their enclosure can be opened and they can go free.
SMALL THINGS MATTER
The second Ethiopian rescue took place just a few weeks later. This time the mission was to save several monkeys, plus a duiker, rabbits, an Egyptian goose, guinea fowl and another giant tortoise. It had been discovered that the owner of Jungle Land, a small decrepit zoo in Dira Dewa, had no licence to keep wild animals. The Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority was prosecuting him and closing the zoo down. They asked Born Free to re-home the animals at Ensessakotteh.
Born Free’s Founder, internationally acclaimed actress Virginia McKenna OBE (star of ‘Born Free’), reported: “I flew to Jungle Land with vet and rescue expert Dr Johan Joubert, Wildlife Director from Shamwari Reserve in South Africa, where Born Free has two other big cat sanctuaries. I was horrified to see a row of dark, small rusted cages which housed eight primates. Some had lived in those fearful grim conditions for over ten years. Meanwhile Stephen Brend had driven the 450km (280 miles) with our Deputy Manager in Ethiopia, Bereket Girma, bringing the necessary crates, equipment and veterinary drugs.
“Stephen used a dart gun to sedate the large male monkeys,” Virginia continued. “The smaller females he managed to constrain, wearing very thick protective gloves, while Johan injected sedative by hand to those that needed it. All the animals were loaded into the special travel crates, and our team then removed the doors from the cages ready to be destroyed, an extra deterrent to prevent their future use. Amazingly, this whole process only took one and a half hours. Then began the long drive to Ensessakotteh, which included several stops to check the animals, give them water and ensure, as much as possible, that this bewildering and stressful experience was not too traumatic.
“For me, this has been a special and important experience,” Virginia concluded. “Not enough focus is given to smaller animals – who perhaps lack the big charismatic personality of the big cats. But these too are amazing creatures and deserve our respect and understanding. This they will certainly get at Ensessakotteh!”