Ukrainian lions released into SA reserve


After a grueling journey of approximately 12 000 km from the war-torn Ukraine, two male lions were released in the Shamwari nature reserve in the Eastern Cape.

The three-year-old Tsar and Jamil, who were rescued from the war in 2022, arrived in South Africa on Monday. The Shamwari nature reserve is home to around 50 wild cats.

Since their rescue from Ukraine, Tsar and Jamil have been cared for by experts at an animal shelter in Belgium. It served as a refuge for the lions while the international non-profit organization Born Free, which was involved in their rescue, carefully made plans for their resettlement in South Africa.

The lions were taken from their mother as cubs in a Ukrainian zoo, after which they were sold to a farm and exploited as a “tourist attraction” for a long time.

The young lions were kept in terrible conditions.

After pressure from local animal protection organisations, they were handed over to a wildlife rescue center in Kiev.

Here the full extent of their suffering became clear. Veterinary examinations revealed that both lions have a calcium deficiency.

However, with proper care and nutrition, Tsar and Jamil began to recover from their ordeal – until further hardships came their way.

Early in 2022, the outbreak of war in Ukraine posed a new threat to the lions’ future. Despite unbearable conditions, a team at the Ukrainian rescue center worked together with a Polish zoo to bring the lions to safety in Belgium.

The lions were transported from there to the Luxembourg airport, before departing for Johannesburg.

On their arrival at Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari in the Eastern Cape, they went straight from their crates into the bush.

Maggie Balaskas of Born Free says that it will take time for Tsar and Jamil to adjust to their new environment.

“After a traumatic start in life, and after they have already lived in five different houses, it is a great relief to know that Tsar and Jamil can finally look forward to a better future.

“The Born Free team will be keeping a close eye on the lions, and hope that they will soon explore their new home with confidence.

“We are incredibly grateful to each individual who was part of their journey. Born Free will continue to work tirelessly to end the captivity, abuse and exploitation of wild animals.”

Catherine Gillson, manager of Born Free Shamwari Reserve added they were excited about the arrival of the lions.

“This caused great excitement for the Born Free Shamwari team. We are determined that they will adapt well to their new environment.”