Watch: New life for lions born into captivity

At just three years old, lions Tsar and Jamil, pictured above, have experienced much suffering in their short lives – mistreatment, exploitation, and the threat of war. Picture: Born Free/Supplied

At just three years old, lions Tsar and Jamil, pictured above, have experienced much suffering in their short lives – mistreatment, exploitation, and the threat of war. Picture: Born Free/Supplied

Published Mar 12, 2024

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At just three years old, lions Tsar and Jamil have experienced much suffering in their short lives – mistreatment, exploitation, and the threat of war.

After an incredible 8000 mile journey and a monumental rescue mission involving countless passionate people and organisations around the world, the brothers start their new lives, released to experience for the first time, the sights, sounds and smells of South Africa at Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

Born into captivity in a Ukrainian zoo, Tsar and Jamil were taken from their mother as tiny cubs and sold to a farm where they were exploited as a “tourist attraction”. Kept in unsuitable conditions, fed a poor-quality diet and without specialist care, the young lions became malnourished and sickly.

Following pressure from local animal protection organisations, the lions were handed over to a wildlife rescue centre in Kyiv.

Here, the full extent of their suffering became apparent. Veterinary examinations revealed both lions had calcium deficiencies and Tsar had bone fractures. However, with proper care and nutrition, Tsar and Jamil began to recover from their ordeal, until further hardship came their way.

In early 2022, the outbreak of war in Ukraine presented a fresh threat to the lions’ future. A team at the Ukrainian rescue centre worked alongside a Polish zoo and Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC) to evacuate the cats, via a brief stay in Poland, to the safety of NHC’s wildlife rescue centre in Belgium.

Since March 2022, Tsar and Jamil have been cared for by experts at Natuurhulpcentrum. This half-way house has served as a haven for the lions while Born Free meticulously crafted plans for their re-homing in South Africa.

The epic re-homing journey began on Friday night, when the brothers were gently loaded into their custom-made travel crates. The lions first travelled by road to Luxembourg airport, before departing for Johannesburg on a specialist flight.

After 10 hours in the air, the lions touched down in South Africa. After being met and checked over by Born Free’s vet, Tsar and Jamil’s overland road trip to the Eastern Cape began.

When they reached their destination, Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari, the team were delighted to see both lions dash straight out of their crates into the natural bush of their 2.5 acre enclosure.

Half an hour later, the Born Free Animal Care team located the lions reunited, lying together in the night house of their enclosure.

Tsar and Jamil are now part of a proud heritage of 50 big cats given new lives in the sanctuary of Shamwari, by Born Free.

Maggie Balaskas, Born Free’s head of rescue and care 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.

Born Free will continue to work tirelessly to end the captivity, abuse and exploitation of wild animals and ensure these precious creatures are given a life worth living.”

Cape Times

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WildlifeAnimals