Born Free lions returned to ancestral home after abuse in Ukraine

  • Post last modified:March 19, 2024
  • Reading time:13 mins read

A collaboration of animal protection non-profits, including Born Free, have succeeded in the monumental rescue of three lions from an abusive animal farm, living under the threat of Russia’s siege in Ukraine.

The Born Free Foundation completed the lions’ two-year 8,000 mile long journey which started in the war-ravaged country. On Tuesday 12 March, three-year-old Tsar and Jamil started their new lives in their ancestral home at Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary in Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

Born Free lion rescue from abusive ‘tourist attraction’

The pair of lions were born into captivity at a Ukrainian zoo. While cubs, the zoo sold the duo to an animal farm which exploited them as a “tourist attraction”. There, the farm held them in utterly unsuitable conditions. It fed them a poor-quality diet, and without specialist care, the young lions became malnourished and sickly.

Given this untenable situation for the two lions, local animal protection organisations campaigned for the farm to hand them over to a wildlife rescue centre in Kyiv:Tsar sitting in the grass at the Ukraine rescue centre.

On arrival, veterinary examinations revealed the full extent of the farm’s abuse to the pair of young lions. Specifically, they found that both lions had calcium deficiencies, and Tsar had bone fractures:

Tsar and Jamil playing in the hay at the Ukraine rescue centre.

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

War brings a new threat

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 put the lion’s at risk once more. Despite Russia’s devastating siege on the Ukrainian people, a brave rescue team worked to evacuate the big cats.

The Ukrainian rescue centre collaborated with a Polish zoo and Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC) to move the lions to safety. First they traveled in crates for a brief stay at a Polish zoo:

Rescue team transporting Tsar and Jamil in a crate to Poland.

Following this, they journeyed onwards to their temporary home in Belgium:

Tsar or Jamil loaded into a crate for their journey to Belgium.

Since March 2022, a dedicated team at NHC cared for Tsar and Jamil:

Tsar at Natuurhulpcentrum. Born Free

Tsar drinking from the pool at Natuurhulpcentrum Lion

But on Friday 8 March, Born Free and its partners began their epic re-homing journey. Starting via road, the lions traveled to Luxembourg airport. There, they boarded a specialist flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Lions returning to their natural home

After a further 1,000 kilometres to Shamwari, Tsar and Jamil quickly settled in at their endemic home. On arrival to the NGO’s Big Cat Sanctuary, both lions dashed out of their crates into the 2.5 acre natural bush:

Jamil being released into his new home. Born Free

Tsar being released into his new home Lion

Within half an hour, the Born Free Animal Care team located the lions reunited, lying together in the shaded night house of their enclosure. In its press release, the Born Free Foundation said that the lions will now:

take time to adjust to the sights, sounds and smells of the bush, and the space of their expansive new home. The Born Free team will be monitoring the lions closely, and are hopeful they will start exploring their new ‘forever home’ soon, perhaps after being fed lunch in the early afternoon.

Celebrating the successful rescue operation, Born Free’s head of rescue and care Maggie Balaskas said:

After a traumatic start in life, and having already lived in five different homes, it’s a huge relief to know that Tsar and Jamil have arrived safely at their forever home. Born Free is incredibly grateful to each and every person who has been part of Tsar and Jamil’s journey, especially the courageous individuals who moved them out of Ukraine to safety and then from Poland on to Belgium, where the wonderful team at Natuurhulpcentrum have been caring for them.

Born Free manager at Shamwari Cathering Gillson added that she hoped their new home will:

bring them peace and a chance to enjoy a more natural life – a million miles away from the existence they endured in their formative years.

Moreover, she expressed the excitement of Born Free Shamwari team, saying that:

We look forward to providing them with the care and respect they deserve, in an environment that is as close as possible to the wild as you can get

Born Free: saving wildlife for 40 years

Ultimately, co-founder Dame Virginia McKenna lauded the relocation as a story of:

 of perseverance, hope and change – a story where every individual animal matters.

Moreover, McKenna said that it was the “story of Born Free”. Notably, the organisation is celebrating 40 years of saving animals from abuse, exploitation, and incarceration. Tsar and Jamil are the 58th and 59th lions the charity has rehomed since its founding in 1984.

Featured image and additional images via the Born Free Foundation.

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