Dream ticket to Africa

Lionesses settle into their ancestral homeland thanks to KQ and the Born Free Foundation

Maggie-and-Sonja-BFFNine-year old twin sisters Maggie and Sonja have just made an epic journey home to Africa, on board the inaugural Kenya Airways Dreamliner flight from London Heathrow, via Nairobi, Kenya to Johannesburg in South Africa. But these are no ordinary passengers, for Maggie and Sonja are lionesses, and were rescued from a terrible circus in Germany.

Singer and TV star Peter Andre was there to help with the mission, making a special trip airside to see the lionesses as they were loaded on to the new B787 Dreamliner at London’s Heathrow Airport to start their 6000-mile journey to their new life at the Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.

“I was so excited to be asked to come along and witness part of Maggie and Sonja’s epic journey to Africa,” he exclaimed. “It really is a dream ticket for them!”

Peter has been the international wildlife charity’s Patron since 2009, when he performed at their Wild & Live concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This time Peter helped ensure the special relocation had extensive media coverage including television, newspapers and magazines.

“I’m in awe of the lioness sisters. They’re beautiful animals,” said Peter.

“Having been told how cruelly they were treated while living with the circus I am delighted to get involved. I was shocked to learn that circuses that use wild animals are still legal in many parts of Europe, including the UK. I hope to help raise awareness to what organisations such as Born Free are doing to try and change things.”

A long journey
Maggie and Sonja began their journey in January, arriving in the UK from their temporary home at the Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC, Nature Help Centre) in Belgium via the Eurotunnel. For eight long years they had performed degrading and mindless tricks in the big top at the German circus – trained, no doubt by dominance and fear, to ‘entertain’ misguided circus audiences, then confined to a cramped trailer in appalling conditions. When they arrived at NHC in 2013 Maggie and Sonja needed round-the-clock expert care. In very poor health, they were thin and sickly, suffering from open wounds, while Maggie had lost part of her tail, probably due to a circus trailer door slamming shut on it. Fortunately, after intensive rehabilitation treatment and plenty of good food, the sisters recovered.

Despite all they had endured, Sonja and Maggie were curious, playful and affectionate to each other. However, a small enclosure in Belgium was no life for them. NHC is a wonderful sanctuary, but it mainly rescues native birds and mammals. The Born Free Foundation longed to give the sisters a new life at their South African rescue centre in Shamwari Reserve and set about raising funds.

Moving two lions to Africa was a big mission and Born Free assembled a team of experts. The move necessitated a lot of paperwork and organisation, plus the creation of specially designed travel crates. During the move the team, including Born Free’s big cat rescue expert Tony Wiles, kept a watchful eye on Sonja and Maggie’s progress at all times.

“After spending most of their lives in cramped and squalid conditions, it feels great to be able to offer these girls a safe, happy and natural place to live out the rest of their lives,” said Tony.

Katrina Hanson, cargo manager at Kenya Airways, said: “We were thrilled to offer our services to carry this amazing, unique cargo. With the expertise of our support teams and our African network it is great we logistically made this happen for Maggie and Sonja.”

Home at last
The rescued lionesses quickly settled into their new home at Born Free’s rescue centre in Shamwari, South Africa, following their extraordinary 6000-mile journey. After touching down in Jo’burg the sisters were loaded into trailers, towed by Land Rovers. When they arrived at Shamwari they were released into their natural enclosure, several acres in size, stepping out into their ancestral homeland, surrounded by the sights and sounds of Africa for the first time.

Shamwari Wildlife Director and vet Dr Johan Joubert was very satisfied with the move.

“It was snowing when Maggie and Sonja left Belgium and now they are adapting to a hot African summer’s day. They have experienced natural grass and trees for the first time in their lives and I’m thrilled a good life is ahead of them!”

To find out more about Maggie and Sonja, meet some of Born Free’s other rescued animals, or make a donation to enable Born Free to continue its work with some of the world’s most vulnerable animals, visit: www.bornfree.org.uk

Please help KQ & the Born Free Foundation to safeguard Africa’s wildlife by placing any loose change in the envelopes provided and handing to a member of the cabin crew. The money received will help us in our fight to ensure a future for Africa’s wildlife. Thank you! www.bornfree.org.uk/about-us/born-free-kenya/