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'Last Two Circus Lions of Bulgaria' Experience Freedom For First Time [PHOTOS]

Sep 28, 2015 06:17 PM EDT
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The last two circus lions of Bulgaria are finally free. The Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA have announced that Jora and Black, an inseparable pair of rescued lions, have completed a 10,500 mile journey to find a new home and new freedoms on the spacious plains of Africa.

On January 2015, the Bulgarian government enacted a law that made the keeping and training of wild mammals for entertainment illegal. And while this historic change no-doubt saves the livelihoods of future generations, many now-retired circus animals were left with no place to call home.

[This is not unlike the fate of many 'retired' lab chimpanzees after the US FWS declared even captive chimps as protected under the ESA. You can read more about that here.]

Such was the fate of Jora and Black, a pair of young adult lions who were taken from their mother at birth and raised in a Bulgarian circus for the last seven years. Local officials say the brothers were the last lions without a home, making them the last two circus lions of Bulgaria. (Scroll to read on...)


[Credit: Joshua Cura / Born Free]

And while that title may sound impressive, the living conditions that came with it were far from adequate. When the Bulgarian government reached out to The Born Free Foundation for help in relocating the big cat duo, the organization rallied global support in an effort to bring Jora and Black to their ancestral home, Africa.

(Photo : July 2015 (c) Born Free Foundation) (modified) Left in a cramped circus trailer, Black and Jora lived quite literally on top of one another.

As of this week, those effort have finally paid off. On Saturday, the lions flew from Bourgas airport to London Gatwick, where they were greeted by Born Free Co-founder and well-known British actress Virginia A. McKenna OBE.

"They still have a long way to go but I am really happy that with the generous public support we are able to offer them a wonderful new home," the actress announced on the tarmac. "They deserve no less."

(Photo : Victoria Lockwood / Born Free)

From London, the lion brothers traveled more than 5600 miles over 11 hours before setting down in Johannesburg, South Africa. One trailer convoy later, Jora and Black finally got to experience freedom for the first time in their lives.

They were released into the Born Free Jean Byrd Education and Rescue Centre, a part of the Shamwari Game Reserve, just outside of Port Elizabeth. Initial photos show the pair as tentative at first, but quickly warming to their new and spacious home. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : (c)* Charlotte Cornwallis / Shamwari Game Reserve) Jora, the shyer of the two lions, gets his first glimpse of a new home.
(Photo : (c)* Charlotte Cornwallis / Shamwari Game Reserve) Black, the more dominant of the pair, boldly strolls in after Jora.
(Photo : (c)* Charlotte Cornwallis / Shamwari Game Reserve)

After a bit of exploring and a brief reunion in the center of their habitat, Jora and Black reportedly settled down, side-by-side for a midday meal.

According to Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and the Born Free Foundation, he couldn't be happier with how things turned out for the last circus lions of Bulgaria.

"Every time we rescue an ill-treated wild animal, forced into unnatural, cruel captivity for years, it is truly a cause for celebration," Roberts said in an emailed statement. "The story of Jora and Black and their opportunity to live in peace in South Africa is an uplifting one; a testament to the hard work of so many dedicated people, and an inspiration that drives us to save more animals in need wherever they sadly languish."

Still, supporting Jora and Black doesn't stop with them finding a home. If you are interesting in helping to fund the lion brothers' day-to-day care you can donate to their cause here.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

 - follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

*all photos with permission (via Born Free/The Rodi Company)

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