Monaco leopards released on South African wildlife reserve

January 9, 2008 8:18:28 AM PST
With a roar, Pitou the leopard bounded off into the African bushveld Wednesday after a long flight from a Monaco zoo to her new home at an exclusive wildlife reserve.

Her brother Sirius was more reluctant and had to be coaxed to leave his cage.

The 16-year-old siblings had been handed over by Prince Albert of Monaco to the Born Free Foundation, an international wildlife charity, as part of a program to relocate exotic animals from zoos.

They had been housed at the principality's cliff-top Jardin Animalier for the last five years after being rescued from a French traveling circus.

"It was becoming increasingly difficult to justify keeping large animals here," Albert said Monday when he and the foundation's founder, actress Virginia McKenna, watched the leopards being sedated in preparation for their flight.

Accompanied by McKenna, the leopards left the zoo in a cavalcade to Nice airport and then were taken by private charter to London en route to South Africa.

They arrived in Johannesburg early Tuesday morning to the great excitement of airport cargo-handling staff.

The leopards were then taken by road to the game reserve, near the southern coastal town of Port Elizabeth. Home is now a three-acre enclosure.

"It is a privilege for the foundation to receive these beautiful leopards and to re-home them to their rightful place, Africa," McKenna said in a statement ahead of the relocation.