Lioness sisters Maggie and Sonja have spent almost their entire lives at a German circus. But now, they are on their way to freedom at an animal refuge in South Africa.
The Born Free Foundation helped arrange the rescue and transfer.
“Born in 2006, Maggie and Sonja spent the first eight years of their lives at a circus in Germany,” the group notes. “Along with regular performances, they spent the rest of their time confined to a circus trailer in appalling conditions.”
When the animals were confiscated by the German authorities in 2013, the Natuurhulpcentrum Opglabbeek, a Belgian Centre for the rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals, offered them temporary accommodation. For the last year, their injuries have been treated and they’ve been rehabilitated before being declared fit to travel.
“When the lionesses arrived they were in very poor condition, suffering from open wounds,” Sil Janssen, Founder of Natuurhulpcentrum said in a statement. “Our team have worked hard to improve their physical and psychological wellbeing and now they are in good shape and are ready to make their rightful passage to Africa where they belong.”
The lions left Tuesday from their temporary digs in Belgium via the Eurostar for their epic journey “home.” From there, other boarded a Kenya Airways Dreamliner flight – the inaugural flight, in fact – from London Heathrow via Nairobi to Johannesburg. The company’s CEO, Mbuvi Ngunze, was on hand for the event.
“We are delighted to have our new Dreamliner operating out of London Heathrow but to have such special passengers on board makes this is a truly memorable flight,” Sally Peters, the company’s marketing manager said in a statement.
Entertainer Peter Andre, who is also a Born Free patron, was also there as the sisters made their way to the Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa. He used the opportunity to raise awareness.
“After being told how cruelly these beautiful animals had been treated whilst living with the circus, I am really delighted to get the chance to join the Born Free team at Heathrow,” Andre said in a statement. “I was shocked to learn that circuses which use wild animals as part of their acts are still legal in many parts of Europe, including here in the UK, and I hope to be able to raise awareness of this issue and what organisations such as Born Free are doing to try and change things.”
Once they arrived today in Johannesburg, the lionesses were transported by another Born Free partner, Land Rover, to Shamwari Game Reserve, where they will be released into a large African bush enclosure to begin new lives.