Elsa Italia – one lioness’ journey from the spotlight to sanctuary

International wildlife charity Born Free has launched a new appeal – Elsa Italia – to provide lifetime care for an ex-circus lioness in Italy.

Forced to perform with a travelling circus in Sardinia, Elsa (ironically named by the circus not the charity – the original lioness from the 1966 Born Free movie shared the same name) the lioness’ living conditions were cramped and squalid. She was kept in a small barren cage, which was essentially just a circle of iron bars within a concrete car park, and her night quarters were inside a rusty beast wagon where she slept on a metal floor.

Born Free first came to Elsa’s rescue in 2014 when the charity worked with Italian animal organisation Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV) to remove her from the circus and rehome her in a place of safety, until the case was concluded. As a temporary measure, Elsa was taken to a wildlife sanctuary in northern Italy, with Born Free covering the cost of her transportation from Sardinia, her daily care and veterinary costs, thanks to public support.

It was originally Born Free’s ambition to give Elsa a permanent home at its big cat sanctuary in Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa. However, the court case was continually delayed and it wasn’t until 2018 when, due to a technicality in the Italian law, Elsa was permitted to be removed from the court case. Only at this point could Elsa legally be permanently rehomed, before the conclusion of the investigation, and without risk of being returned to the circus. By this time, after several visits and discussions with staff at the sanctuary in Tuscany, it became apparent that Elsa was happy and content where she was, and it was in fact within her best interest to remain in Italy.

“It’s been a long process to get to the stage where Elsa can finally be given a permanent place to call home,” explained Maggie Balaskas, Born Free’s Animal Rescue and Care Manager. “It’s clear that she is thriving at the sanctuary in Italy and we believe she will be happiest remaining where she is. Last year Elsa was introduced to a male lion called Madiba, who she had being living alongside for a number of years. Madiba was also rescued from inadequate captive conditions and part of a different court case. The two have become great companions for each other.”

Maggie added: “Although she’s around 12 years old now, Elsa is very lively and young at heart. She has grown in confidence and her playful character has really become evident. She spends her days exploring her enclosure within the sanctuary, lying on her platform and viewing her surroundings from an elevated position. We are delighted that Elsa can now continue to enjoy her life, with the companionship of Madiba, in a safe place where she is receiving the best possible care”

Elsa’s lifetime care will cost around €12,000 a year. To support Born Free continue to give this beautiful lioness a safe and secure home visit www.bornfree.org.uk/elsa-italia.

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