As someone who has dwelled in cities throughout my adult life, one of the great thrills of my time in Africa has been the opportunity to experience wildlife on an intimate basis. I happily awake at dawn for game drives, monkeys have stolen my dinner and I’ve looked up from more than one sundowner into the eyes of a zebra confused at my presence. But as much as I love safaris, care for animals in need is an equally, if not more, important component of interacting with wildlife. During a visit to Born Free Foundation in Ethiopia, I was able to learn about their efforts and wander the surrounding forest afterward.
Born Free is based out of the United Kingdom and is dedicated to caring and rehabilitating injured and orphaned animals. The foundation opened its Ethiopian operations in 2008 and now has a center in Menagesha Forest, about an hour west of downtown Addis Ababa. When I visited Born Free, the staff was kind enough to explain the history and rehabilitation plan for each lion, cheetah, baboon and serval cat under its care.
Many of these animals had been removed from their natural habitats and some had been kept under inhumane conditions (including a baboon found on a leash in Addis). I have seen many lions in zoos and from a safari car, but this was the closest encounter I’d had with these impressive creatures.
The cheetahs at Born Free were remarkably friendly and brushed up against their fence with house cat-like coquettishness. I caught a quick glimpse of a serval cat in its enclosure, but it did not stay visible long enough for a photo.
The baboons, however, were happy to pose.
After visiting with the animals, it was time for a hike. In the middle of the dry season, Menagesha Forest is just the right temperature for a lengthy wander, with heavy canopy cover and the occasional smell of eucalyptus trees hitting you randomly.
In addition to the trees and shrubbery, a disused concrete building forms part of the forest now. The steps are still scalable (but I did so with much caution) and lead to some impressive views of the woods. The exterior has been removed, so little remains except for the foundation, floors and some graffiti in Amharic. Nearby, another remnant of Ethiopia’s recent past.
An afternoon of Born Free and hiking is an ideal day trip from Addis Ababa and organizations that undertake such admirable work deserve the support of travelers. I urge you to visit Born Free if you are spending any time in Ethiopia to see first-hand how meaningful their efforts are.
I’m publishing this post today to coincide with the International Day of Forests. The preservation of these spaces is vital to mitigating carbon emissions and combating climate change.