Simba moves to Africa

Simba moves to Africa

Posted by Sam Hopkins on 28th Feb 2014

Fantastic news this week, as we have heard that Simba has arrived and joined Bella the lioness at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre!

The uplifting story of Simba has captured the hearts and imagination of people across the world and, with the relocation firmly underway, it brings the tragic story of this magnificent lion to a new and exciting chapter. From the confines of a zoo cage in Romania, to the beast wagon of an animal trainer, Simba as finally managed to land on African soil – where he truly belongs.

The expert relocation team and sanctuary staff, headed up by senior wildlife vet Stef Michels and Born Free's Big Cat expert Tony Wiles, met late last week and gently encouraged Simba into his travelling crate at Belgium's Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC) in preparation for his epic journey to the 'Warm Heart of Africa'. Below is an account of Simba's journey as told by a staff member at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. It sounds like it was a pretty amazing welcome!

"At the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, the team were up at 5am in anticipation. A huge amount of work had been put in beforehand with the airport, veterinary, media and import authorities all needing paperwork signed off in the preceding weeks and once the team had ensured that all was in order it was time to get everyone in place and wait. This was a huge day for Malawi and a whole host of local press and even the Principal Secretary to the Minister of Tourism and Wildlife and the Director of Parks and Wildlife were there on the runway to welcome Simba!

First off the plane was the Born Free team, led by its founder Virginia McKenna. All were weary from a long journey but they were very excited to see the welcome committee and the special banner we had made. Hugs all round and it was time for the crate to come off. Once the airport staff realised what the special cargo was, there was a rush of excitement as the message spread that there was a 'mkango' ('lion' in Chechewa) on board, but luckily security held everyone back as Simba was taken into the hangar to be cleared and checked by our Animal Care Manager, Jasper Iepema and vets, Drs Amanda Salb (Lilongwe Wildlife Centre), Tony Wiles (Born Free Foundation), and Stefaan Michels (Natuurhulpcentrum). The team were a little worried about Simba as he was more dehydrated than expected so he was moved onto the back of the awaiting trailer, pulled by a very splendid Land Rover – a regal ride fit for a regal animal!

Back at the Wildlife Centre and another welcome committee had formed which included the British High Commissioner, H.E. Mr Michael Nevin and Minister of Tourism, Hon. Mose Kunkuyu as well as staff from the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre and the Department of Parks and Wildlife. But there was no time to stop - we needed to get Simba settled in as soon as possible! Eight of our strongest staff were on hand for the 'big lift' - the road didn't quite run up to the enclosure, and we were super proud of the team as they hoisted Simba up and over to his enclosure - no mean feat when you consider a steel box and a male lion weighing in at way over half a ton! Bart Hilven, Simba's carer from NHC in Belgium, was on hand to offer Simba reassurance and water and Virginia was also with him every step of the way..."

We can't wait to hear more news of Simba – particularly when he meets Bella! We will let you know the updates as soon as we get them! If you would like to see Simba and Bella for yourself, why not join the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre Project? Malawi was voted as one of Lonely Planet's top ten destinations to visit in 2014, so now is definitely the time to go!


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