After another successful lion rescue by Born Free, Ciam and Nelson are now free to roam in their forever home at Shamwari Big Cat Sanctuary…

Having followed their incredible lion rescue story via social media, we, along with a host of followers, were gripped by the lion’s journey to freedom. Impressed by the power that social media played in yet another animal rescue story, we tracked down the heroes behind the scenes and learnt more about the wider conservation story and how Ciam and Nelson will live out their lives within the Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa. We spoke to Glen Vena, the Born Free Animal Care Manager at Shamwari Game Reserve, to learn more about how the rescued lions are settling into their new homes, plus asked him to talk about his daily role.

An Interview With Glen Vena, Born Free Animal Care Manager

Caring for the rescued lions on a day-to-day basis is Glen Vena, the Born Free Animal Care Manager, and we were privileged enough to gain a small insight into his career, daily work, and passion for wildlife.

Glen Vena, Big Cat Sanctuary, Shamwari
Glen Vena, Big Cat Sanctuary, Shamwari

1. What makes you passionate about working at Shamwari and looking after the Born Free Sanctuary big cats?

As a young boy, I grew up on a farm herding my father’s livestock and being in the bushveld. Most of my childhood time was spent learning life lessons from my father on how to care for the bushveld, when it was necessary to take from nature, and to do it with honour and respect what you took. They were some of his greatest teachings to me. So, what drew me to Shamwari was those exact same teachings that my father taught me. Conserving a vanishing way of life was the biggest draw card for me and being close to home in Paterson. The Born Free Foundation big cats stories are never ending. My job is to teach the youth and install that sense of responsibility at an early age. I believe that this is the way forward in protecting and preserving our wildlife in their natural habitats and most important keeping them in the wild. That, alone, is a big plus in my work that I do here, educating people from different walks of life, different destinations and speaking for those that cannot. I hope that my calls to keep wildlife in the wild can be as loud as the roar of our mighty lion, the King of the veld and not dare let it fade away….

2. How long have you been a member of Shamwari Game Reserve?

I have been working at Shamwari Game Reserve for 17 years. In my first year, I was a guide with my lovely mentor, Pete Willis, and thereafter I became an Animal Care Manager and have been representing the Born Free Foundation for 16 years here at Shamwari Game Reserve.

3. What is your day to day routine?

Ah, very interesting I must say… as I never know what to expect when coming to work. I would start the day by checking on the cats, making sure the fences are on, checking that their water is topped up. Then I head back to the centre to meet up with my colleague, Martin, where we would plan the day and split our duties for the week ahead.

When we have guests, I look after them and tell the stories of the big cats. I take them on a tour of the facilities at the centre at our set times of 8.15am and 11am. Taking guests around is always fun, meeting then, introducing them to our work, some would surprise and know something about our work or they are supporters, too. It is also interesting to see the reaction on their faces when seeing our cats and hearing their stories.  When they meet our cats, some get excited and some are heartbroken to what the cats have been put through in their earlier lives. It is often a lesson that is difficult to understand that as humans we can cause so much suffering to animals. That is why, to me, this is not just a job and taking people on a tour – it is more like being a teacher and a psychologist as we give lots of advice. For those that get on board and support us, it is extremely rewarding.

4. What is your most rewarding moment to date?

Every moment here is rewarding and not a single day is dull, being in a place like Shamwari is great and seeing how wild and rescued animals thrive is a blessing.

5. Your advice to anyone wishing to pursue a career in this line of work?

You have to love what you do, remembering that we only live once, so we have to make it work, by doing what makes YOU happy and this is my happy place, money is not everything and never take anything for granted.

6. Are there special qualifications required?

I have my FGASA guide qualification, the rest I learned on the job and the best qualification is PASSION!

Safari Kids at Shamwari Game Reserve
Safari Kids at Shamwari Game Reserve

Sharing A Passion For Wildlife

It’s difficult not to feel inspired by Glen, plus his team, and it’s humbling to learn about the work that goes on behind the scenes. Africa is a rich continent that pulls on the heart-strings of every visitor and there are many quotes that attempt to capture the lure of the rainbow nation. This October sees Shamwari Private Game Reserve celebrate its 25th Anniversary — an impressive Conservation achievement for visionary, Adrian Gardner and his dedicated team. We wish them every success for the future and hope that many more animals can be cared f in the freedom of their ancestral home. Shamwari’s affiliation with the remarkable actress and conservationist, Virginia McKenna OBE, co-founder of The Born Free Foundation, along with its own Ian Player Rhino Awareness Centre, Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Conservation Experience, mean that the future looks bright for Shamwari and we wait with anticipation to learn more about their exciting expansion and further development next year. We’re sure that it will remain the ‘Pride of the Cape’ and that it will continue to care for rescued animals and provide stories that uplift the soul. Its partnership with Born Free Foundation is a successful story which we hope will keep running for many more years to come.

Feeling Inspired?

If you feel inspired to venture on your own wildlife adventure, embark on a luxury safari in South Africa or journey to Africa, please call our Travel Consultants on 01244 897 578 or visit