Big cat rescue

HR-Rea-enjoys-her-new-home-while-Girma-explores-(c)-Bereket-Girma---BFFEWhen international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation heard about five big cats languishing in a police station in eastern Ethiopia they had to take action…

On an idyllic 77-hectare site just 30km from capital city Addis Ababa, the Born Free Foundation’s wildlife rescue centre in Ethiopia is home to dozens of animals from 20 different species including lions and cheetahs, monkeys and birds of prey. Animals increasingly need rescue because of the ruthless wildlife trade that is decimating populations across the continent. Animals like the three lions and two cheetahs kept at the Jijiga police station were no doubt all captured from the wild by poachers and destined for a life in captivity.

Surrounded by rocky mountains, Jijiga is a large city in eastern Ethiopia, the capital of the Somali Regional State and close to the border with Somaliland. The five big cats had been confiscated and cared for by the local police, military and government officials as best they could, but a life of concrete and bars at a police station was not the ideal home. So with the help of their supporters, Born Free jumped into action and deployed a rescue team – wildlife vet Murray Stokoe and lion expert Dr Hans Bauer, along with the Foundation’s Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority partners.

The rescue
Each big cat was painstakingly loaded into their own travel crate. Rea and Girma the lion cub brother and sister were small enough to be picked up, while gentle, hand-reared adult cheetah siblings Kakaway and Hailu could be led into their crates. But mighty Dawud the adult lion needed tranquilising first. At last, loaded into two lorries, they departed on the long and hot journey to Holeta, 750km away. Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free Foundation Founder and star of the film Born Free, who turned 85 that same day, exclaimed it was “the best birthday news ever!”

After an exhausting, nearly 23-hour journey, midst a heavy downpour, the convoy, including two Born Free Land Rovers, safely arrived at the rescue centre. Unloading took a long time due to the rain, but eventually all the animals were carefully released into their new homes and could recover and relax in peace.

Born Free Ethiopia’s Zelealem Tefera was overjoyed: “We are very grateful for the great support extended by the Ethiopia-Somali Regional State government and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority. The team was fantastic, and made the rescue possible by working around the clock.”

Rea Tschopp, Born Free’s consultant vet, gave a full assessment of the animals, reporting they were all doing remarkably well – “they are so happy!” The cheetahs were rolling in the grass, while Dawud had already started marking his new territory. But their story doesn’t end here. Although Born Free had successfully rescued the animals they still need to raise funds to build Rea and Girma a new home at the centre and care for all of the animals for the rest of their lives.

How your gift could help:
£5     buys Girma or Rea a vitamin boost
£11     buys Dawud good food for one day
£20     employs one lion carer for one day
£40     feeds Kakaway or Hailu for one week
£4200     provides one year’s care for a cheetah
£62,260     builds an enclosure for Girma and Rea

If you are able to help care for Born Free’s five new big cats please visit or call +44 1403 240170 – thank you!