Since 1999, Kuma, a wild-born leopard, has been living at the Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve. However, his story starts back in 1996, all the way up in the Ivory Coast.

Kuma and his brother, Tango, were discovered by a young Italian man named Alberto, who purchased the young cubs from illegal traders and successfully hand-reared them. Unfortunately, as they grew older, Alberto soon realised that wild animals weren’t meant to be pets.

And, as heartbreaking as it was for him, he knew that keeping the cubs was not an option. That’s when he contacted the Born Free Foundation, who directed him to Shamwari Game Reserve. Unfortunately, he faced a few obstacles when it came to settling them into a new, happy, home.

Troubled Times

At the time, the Ivory Coast government would not issue an export license for the cubs, and insisted that they be put in the Abidjan Zoo. Tied up in legalities, Alberto had no choice but to comply. But, as the conditions at the zoo were extremely poor, he travelled every day to feed and spend time with Kuma and Tango, hoping to offer them comfort.

Sadly, Tango escaped from the zoo and was shot dead, which sparked outrage in the community and emphasised how important it was to rehome his brother as soon as possible.

Between Alberto, the Born Free Foundation, Shamwari, and eventually even the Italian ambassador in Abidjan, the government relented and Kuma was sent to Shamwari.

A New Beginning

Since his arrival, Kuma has grown into a handsome young leopard and is thriving in his natural surroundings. But his story doesn’t end there.

One day, 13 years after first meeting his leopard friends, Alberto paid a visit to Shamwari to see Kuma. He called out to the leopard in French, as he used to do when Kuma and Tango were cubs, and after all this time of being separated, the leopard still remembered him. In fact, Kuma followed Alberto all the way to the front of his large camp, despite scorching heat.

Their strong bond is beautiful, and neither leopard nor man have grown apart over the years. When Alberto returned to Shamwari once again some time later with his wife and daughter, Kuma came to visit the family.

To this day they enjoy sitting with each other and playing through the fence, happy to be in each other’s company once again when Alberto visits.

See Kuma and the other rescued big cats at the Born Free Foundation centre at Shamwari Game Reserve. The animals and humans alike will appreciate your support.