It has been just over a week since the release of two Born Free Foundation lions, Ciam and Nelson into their forever homes at the Shamwari Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries.


Ciam’s release was heart-warming to witness. He was ready to live his new life of freedom. The minute the hospital camp was opened he went wandering about, after spending his initial night getting familiar with the surroundings. He seemed to be fascinated by the trees and was looking up at the branches swaying in the breeze.

He sniffed around at the grass and bush and seemed to be taking everything in for the first time. It was a magical experience to witness, this young lion finding his feet in his forever home. What was even more exciting to witness was to watch Ciam do the flehmen grimace right in front of our eyes. It is an intriguing behaviour that is carried out by lions.

The Flehmen Grimace:

The Flehmen grimace is when a lion, of either sex, sniffs and smells the urine of another. Chemicals and hormones in the urine elicit the Flehmen response. Usually, after smelling the urine patch on the ground or vegetation, the animal that is doing the smelling will lift his or her head, and hold their lips back in a strong grimace for several seconds.

It can appear to be a threatening demonstration, but it certainly isn’t. Each cat has a vomeronasal organ, also referred to as the organ of Jacobson, positioned above the palate. By sniffing deeply, and then pulling back their lips, they are ‘testing’ the chemical content of the urine left behind by the other animal. There are other Born Free lions in the enclosures surrounding Ciam and this shows that his natural born instincts are kicking in by picking up the scents of the lionesses in the area. This is fantastic news!

“Ciam’s release was heart-warming to witness. He was ready to live his new life of freedom. ”

Ciam’s home at the Jean Byrd Centre:

Three-year-old Ciam has settled in incredibly well. When he was released he was confident and sure-footed. He has now had a few days in which to get used to his enclosure and is loving it. He has figured out where to hide when the heat of the day is just too much to bare or where to shelter when the days are a bit cooler.

He’s also found his way of getting onto his shelter in the main camp. He finds his water easily and has been eating well. His caretakers have found that he continues to explore and has adjusted well. They are very happy with his progress thus far. He is looking great and hasn’t gone back into the hospital camp in which he spent his first night. This is a positive sign and shows that he’s comfortable in the environment.


Nelson is a much older lion than Ciam and has spent most of his life in a zoo in France. When he was released we found that Nelson seemed unsure of his environment and preferred the hospital camp in which he spent his first night. He has a magnificent mane and eyes that pierce your soul. He is 17 years old and therefore needs more time to get used to his new surroundings and the sights and sounds that come with it.

Nelson’s home at the Julie Ward Centre:

He currently prefers to be in the hospital enclosure as he is used to smaller spaces. He has investigated his main enclosure and has seen Achee and Sinbad, the lions that live next to him. His caretakers have since heard him roar and feel that he is settling in, in his own time. He is very calm and seems to be taking everything in slowly but surely. He is also eating well and knows where to find his water. This is also a great sign!