LILONGWE WILDLIFE CENTRE NEWS: Where to start…what a weekend it has been! We’re thrilled to announce that Simba has made it, he’s doing well and is out and about in his enclosure. Bella is extremely interested in the new arrival and has been pacing up and down and purring through the fence. Simba seems incredibly relaxed now that he is out and more interested in his new surroundings than the promise of a beautiful lioness! Due to strict quarantine rules here they must remain separated for 30 days and so they haven’t caught sight of each other yet but they can certainly hear and smell each other. We can’t share all the photos with you quite yet as the UK’s Sunday Express newspaper will be publishing the shots of him taking his first steps onto African soil (so don’t forget to buy your copy this weekend), but in the meantime here’s an insight into some of the action to share some of the excitement of his arrival.
Simba had started his journey from Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC) in Belgium on Thursday, where he was escorted by a rather royal motorcade of Land Rovers to the airport before flying on to Nairobi. Here he stayed overnight under the watchful eye of the BFF and NHC vets before an early boarding to Lilongwe the next morning.
Back at LWC, the team were up at 5am in anticipation, and with slightly heavy hearts – after four days of blue skies it was bucketing it down. We were all worried that the truck might not manage the back roads – just last month we narrowly averted disaster when our truck, loaded with vervets destined for release, had slid into the olive baboon enclosure! Miraculously the rain had stopped by the time the team got to the airport. 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 big 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 and the visitors.
First off the plane was the Born Free team led by Virginia McKenna, all weary from a long journey but 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’ 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 (LWC), Tony Wiles (BFF), and Stefaan Michels (NHC). 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 (so no worries about getting stuck after all!)
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 LWC and the Dept 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’ll stop there for now. In the meantime we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone at the Born Free Foundation, Natuurhulcentrum in Belgium, Kenya Airways, Land Rover and the Department of Parks and Wildlife here in Malawi for all their hard work and support in giving Simba this new chance in life, and of course our beautiful Bella the chance of companionship. As Virginia said on Saturday night, we all made friends for life this weekend!
We’ve uploaded quite a few photos for you to flick through to give you an idea of what the day was like. Thanks to our resident photographer Amelia Sprong who managed to capture the day beautifully. Enjoy!