Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 5th Apr 2009

The Born Free Foundation

Glen Vina, The Born Free Foundation

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show SciFest Africa Special

Glen - We rescue wild animals that are kept in inhumane conditions all around the world. We try to give them a better quality of life for a few years before they die. I like to describe this sanctuary as a retirement home. We have rescued lions and leopards here. Itís cats that were rescued from run-down zoos, circuses, nightclubs. Sadly we cannot rehabilitate them and send them back to the wild. Some of them have lost their canine teeth; some of them their claws have been removed; some of them because they were not fed properly their bone structure didnít develop properly due to lack of exercise and not getting the correct food.

Female LionMeera - If theyíre going to live here theyíre going to need a lot of land in order to be comfortable and happy. Theyíve been rescued from bad conditions. How big is the sanctuary here and how much land do they have?

Glen - the enclosures here for our rescue cats each youíre looking at about 1.5ha and weíve left the camps totally natural.

Meera - how do you look after he animals once theyíre here? They have this 1.5ha of land to live on but what about their diets?

Glen - We feed them twice a week. We feed them with food that we get from our local farmers. Unfortunately they canít hunt for themselves because they were born in captivity.

Meera - How far and wide have you received animals from in the past?

Glen - Some of them came from Romania, Liberia, Sudan, The Ivory Coast, Greece.

Meera - And what about reproduction in these animals? You donít have that much land so you obviously donít want them reproducing?

Glen - Definitely. Especially in captivity, we donít want any cubs born in captivity. What we did Ė all our male lions have vasectomies Ė the snip Ė which means they still mate but there are no cubs born in captivity. The reason why we donít castrate them completely is that the testosterone is responsible for the growth of the mane. If you castrate them the mane falls off. Our lionesses, we put them on contraceptives. The reason for that, why we put them on contraceptives is that the wild lions in Shamwari will pick up their scent when they are in heat. If they are on the contraceptive they donít come into season. That keeps the peace between the animals.

Meera - In order to understand more about how you look after the animals here youíre going to take me on a tour to see a bit of the land...

Weíve come round the back and Sinbad the lion is here now.

Glen - Sinbad was fed on a diet of pasta and deboned chicken. His bone structure didnít develop properly so heís half the size of a normal lion, because he didnít get the proper diet from an early age and a lack of exercise. Heís got no claws. Maybe when he started to scratch people they pulled the claws out. Then he lost his canines too but that was due to frustration while he was kept in that small cage. He was chewing on the metal bars. The canines broke off. They are the same length and height as the molars.

Meera - When the animals come here it must be a change for them because theyíve been mistreated and things like that. What do you have to do in order to introduce them to the sanctuary?

Glen - At first, before we release them into the big enclosure thatís 1.5ha we keep them in a smaller enclosure which we call a hospital camp. Thatís where theyíll acclimatise to the new environment, get used to the electrical fence. They have to dodge the fence to know or to respect the fence. Otherwise they can run straight through it. Itís only electrified and itís got about 10,000kV running through it. It wonít hurt the animal but just gives them a big shock. Sometimes it can take them up to 3 weeks, sometimes up to 6 weeks just to adapt to this environment. For some of the rescued animals, like Sinbad, that used to stay in a concrete cage; for him it took longer to get used to this environment. He wasnít used to the thorns. He wasnít used to the soil and he had to get used to the bushes and everything, stuff that he never saw, vegetation that he never saw in his life. It took him about three months to get used to this environment.

Meera - I canít stress how close to us this lion is. Heís less than a metre away from us but there is a cage in between. Heís very well-behaved. Heís just sitting here alongside us.

Glen - Definitely. Heís totally relaxed. As you can see heís busy just grooming himself but he must still be treated as a wild animal. Itís just this fence thatís keeping us away from him. Otherwise if we did something silly he could come through and devour us.

Meera - Ok Ė well I wonít be doing that! Weíve now come round to where they leopard triplets are. Theyíre all Ė well one of them over here just about a metre in front of us is sitting under a tree because itís very hot. What is the story with these leopards, Glen?

Baby Spotted LeopardGlen - These three came from Sudan, found by the soldiers at the age of two weeks in the desert. Iím not sure what happened to the mother. She was probably looking for food or out on a hunt when the soldiers came across these leopards and picked them up and took them back to army camp. They wanted to use them as watch cats, maybe watch dogs at the camp. This one in front of us thatís sitting under this tree his name is Elum, keeping cool. Here comes Sammy the dominant male. Hello Sammy.

Meera - Heís ignoring you.

Glen - Heís just walking up to his brother now. Very social.

Meera - Heís got a large area just hanging low from his belly. Whatís that?

Glen - Our cats, especially with the leopards theyíve been completely neutered. Once you do that, especially to the males, you remove all the hormones. Thatís why they get a bit big. They are not as active as a wild lion or leopard. Remember in the wild they will chase things. Here itís a much easier life.

Meera - Did they find it hard to adjust to being here?

Glen - I mean they came here when they were about 5-8 months old. Because they had each otherís company probably it was much easier for them than the other rescue cats that came here.

Meera - So Born Freeís doing a lot of good work here and looking after these animals. Are there any future developments at Born Free?

Glen - At this stage weíre busy developing another centre. Itís about 70km away from us. We call it the Gene Bird centre. Born Freeís rescuing more cats and lions so we need another home for them. With that centre we can accommodate another 12 animals there now. Iíd like to refer to what weíre doing as compassionate conservation.

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