Coronation Street star Helen Worth joined forces with a top trailer maker in an international rescue mission to return a mistreated lion from Europe to Africa.
A horsebox supplied by Ifor Williams Trailers was used to transport Simba the lion on the crucial first leg of his epic 5,000 journey to freedom.
Also on hand to help with the delicate operation was Helen Worth, a long-time supporter of the international wildlife charity which made the epic 5,000-mile journey possible.
Simba the lion was just a cub of less than a year old when he was then acquired by an animal trainer in France. He was moved from one trainer to another and subjected to a life of misery and solitude in the confines of a beast wagon.
But fate took a hand when the French authorities ordered Simba to be handed over.
Thanks to a concerted effort by Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis, a French non-governmental organisation, temporary shelter was found at the Natuurhulpcentrum (Nature Help Centre) a Belgian wildlife rescue centre.
Simba set out on a journey of 4,900 miles after a new life of freedom was arranged for him at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi by international wildlife charity The Born Free Foundation.
Born Free, which is devoted to compassionate conservation and animal welfare, was founded 30 years ago by actors Virgina McKenna and Bill Travers and named after the classic British film in which they starred as Joy and George Adamson, a couple who raised Elsa, an orphaned lioness, to adulthood before releasing her into the wilderness of Kenya.
The rescue mission for Simba was made carried out by the Land Rover Experience, which provided a six-strong convoy of Land Rover Discovery vehicles for the long trip.
For the critical 120-mile first leg of the journey from Natuurhulpcentrum’s headquarters in Opglabbeek in eastern Belgium to Amsterdam’s Schipol airport in Holland Simba was loaded into a wildlife crate approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and carried carefully to her destination aboard a horsebox supplied to Natuurhulpcentruum by Ifor Williams Trailers.
Joining the Land Rover team for the road trip from Belgium to Holland was Coronation Street star Helen Worth, who plays Gail Platt in the ITV soap and has been a strong supporter of the Born Free Foundation for many years.
At Schipol Airport Simba boarded a Kenya Airways 767 aircraft for the flight to Nairobi.
After landing in Kenya the rescue party was met by Virginia McKenna OBE, who joined the team on its drive to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi marking the final chapter in a heart-breaking story of animal cruelty.
Helen Worth said: “To see the team in action was wonderful. Everyone working together to ensure this beautiful lion would have a safe and comfortable trip to Africa.
“I am so proud to have been party to this story. Simba’s previous life had been so traumatic and without the dedication of Born Free and the Natuurhulpcentrum (Wildlife Rescue Centre) this journey to a new life would not have been possible.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Andrew Reece-Jones, the Design Engineering Manager at Ifor Williams Trailers.
“I am delighted we have been able to play a supporting role in this important project and that Simba is now settling into his new home.
“Transporting a lion was not one of the things we envisaged when designing our horsebox but our trailers are nothing if not flexible!”
Alison Hood, Rescue and Care Director for the Born Free Foundation, explained: “Transporting the rescued lion Simba from the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium to his new home at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre was a massive logistical undertaking.
“In order to ensure this move went as smoothly as possible, Born Free Foundation was lucky enough to have the support of an extended team and, importantly, the right equipment for the task.
“This included the Natuurhulpcentrum’s Ifor Williams horse box on to which Simba’s IATA approved crate was loaded.
“The trailer was then towed to Schiphol airport by vehicles provided by Land Rover, Born Free’s Global Conservation Partner.
“It is vital to ensure maximum safety and comfort when transporting wild animals and Born Free is happy to confirm that Simba’s road journey was just that, thanks to the right equipment being available.”
Virginia McKenna said: “This story is about one animal, one individual, but all of them matter and Simba, having initially been taken in by a Belgian rescue centre from an animal trainer in France, has now begun his final journey to Africa, his rightful homeland.
“People are increasingly aware of how wild animals can be exploited and can suffer, and perhaps long to be a part of a caring and positive story.
“At his new home in Malawi I know he will be beautifully cared for, living the rest of his life in a natural bush enclosure – a stark contrast to the circus wagon and barren `exercise’ pen in France. And perhaps, eventually, he will be introduced to beautiful Bella, a one-eyed lioness we brought there five years ago. That would be a happy ending!”
Mark Cameron, Jaguar Land Rover Global Brand Experience Director, said: “During the past decade Land Rover has enjoyed a successful and rewarding partnership with the Born Free Foundation. I am therefore delighted that our Land Rover Experience team has been able to help with the safe relocation of Simba from Belgium to Malawi.”
A spokesman for Natuurhulpcentrum said: “The transport of Simba went by the book. Simba was quiet, and our staff could not wait to arrive in Lilongwe Wildlife Centre.
“Simba was placed in a large run next to the residence of Bella, his future girlfriend. We are all naturally very curious whether the blind date between two neglected lions eventually will be a success. Fingers crossed!”
For more information about the Born Free Foundation, visit the website www.bornfree.org.uk