, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 21 – She doesn’t like to be crowded. “I can only focus on one person at a time,” she tells a photographer who dares to come too close for her comfort.
And as co-founder of the Born Free Foundation, Virginia McKenna definitely thinks lions need their space too but ironically there’s a crowd in one of the parking bays of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Simba, a nine year old lion, is on transit from Amsterdam to Lilongwe and given the rarity of such a passenger, those who flew alongside him and the airport crew that received him, are crammed round his crate, camera phones in hand, hoping to catch sight of him or even better, a shot.
Simba, unlike McKenna though, doesn’t appear too bothered by the jostling crowd or the camera flashes; he stares right back and the only sign of his discomfort is the snot dripping down his nose.
“It’s an allergy,” his veterinarian, Dr Stef Michels later explains, “and it gets worse when he’s anxious.”
But that said, crowds with camera’s flashing are not new to Simba; he was after all a circus lion. Even the confinement of his crate is not new.
“Unfortunately for him, other than the tricks, his living area was so small… tiny in a circus beast wagon,” McKenna recalled.
But if everything goes according to plan, Simba will be roaming the plains of Lilongwe in months.
“We can’t release him into the wild immediately. He’ll get eaten alive by the other lions and he’ll have to be quarantined for about 28 days first,” Michels explained.
In fact, there’s already a love interest awaiting his arrival in Lilongwe.
“Her name is Bella. She has one eye but is beautiful and hopefully one day, if we see they’re getting on quite well, we might introduce them to each other,” McKenna said.
And as to why Simba couldn’t stay on in Nairobi despite being such a hit, “we don’t have a recovery centre here,” McKenna said.
So, a few minutes later, the shatters come down on Simba’s crate, and it’s on to the warm heart of Africa.
Unfortunately for thousands other wild animals, the best they can hope for when the sun sets is the cold hard floor on which their cages lie.
“We’ve just been doing a survey in Europe about solitary elephants in zoos. Of course elephants are also very family oriented, social animals and to keep a female alone sometimes for many many years is quite cruel,” McKenna highlighted.
And to quote a line from the Born Free film in which McKenna played conservationist Joy Adamson, “What’s wrong with a zoo, anyway? Nothing. Except that she won’t be free. And is freedom so important? Yes, yes, she was born free and she has the right to live free.”
Click to view photo gallery
[fbphotos id=10151690998892609 size=small]