Lions on the move: The long journey home

It’s the good news you’ve been waiting for – we’re about to take lions Tsar and Jamil to their ancestral homeland of South Africa! But, how do you safely move two rescued lions over 8,000 miles?

A split image of two male lions

Last summer, Born Free asked for your help to give two beautiful lion brothers a lifetime home, and you responded in your thousands. Tsar and Jamil had been urgently evacuated from Ukraine in 2022, to escape the devastating war beginning to ravage the country. Today, after months of complex planning and fundraising, we’re almost ready to begin Tsar and Jamil’s relocation to South Africa.

For Born Free, every individual animal matters and Tsar and Jamil’s story exemplifies this. But the logistical feat of relocating lions cannot be underestimated. Internationally transporting wild animals included on the Endangered list from the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), requires CITES import and export permits, along with a veterinary import permit. These take considerable time to complete and weeks to be approved.

However, with all of this now complete, we are in the final stages of planning, getting all the logistics and final documentation in place ready for the lions to begin their life-changing journey.

A close-up photo of two young male lions - one licking his lips

Born Free is moving the young brothers – just three years old – ‘back’ to their ancestral homeland, where they will take up residence in their forever home at our Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Fortunately, Born Free has plenty of experience in relocating lions and Tsar and Jamil will be the 58th and 59th lions we have rehomed over the past 40 years.

In the twilight hours before the move, following a final vet check, Tsar and Jamil will go into their travel crates. These have been custom-made to keep them safe during their journey and the pair will have had plenty of opportunity to get familiar with the crates before they travel. The crates will then be gently loaded into a lorry, driven to the airport, then onto the plane. Rest assured, our precious cargo will be in expert hands throughout the move.

After arriving in South Africa, where Born Free’s resident vet at Shamwari, Dr Johan Joubert, will perform visual health checks on the lions, the crates will be loaded onto a lorry and driven to Shamwari, accompanied by Dr Joubert and Animal Care Manager Glen Vena. Big cat relocations like this are not without risk and we can’t escape the fact that the journey may be stressful for the animals involved. Steps will be taken at every stage of the journey to reduce risks and stress to the lions. Although the journey is long, we trust that the life that awaits these young brothers is worth it.

Two young male lions are wrestling on the floor

Jamil and Tsar before leaving Ukraine (c) UAnimals

When Tsar and Jamil arrive at Shamwari, after their 8,000-mile journey, they will be greeted by Born Free Manager Catherine Gillson and the rest of the Animal Care team, who will oversee their transfer into their new, spacious sanctuary home, and provide the lions with their first meal after the long trip.

Then, over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to monitor Tsar and Jamil to ensure they are settling in well in their forever home. Born Free is committed to providing a safe home and expert care to the brothers for life – which for lions could be up to 25 years.

Born Free’s Head of Rescue & Care, Maggie Balaskas, said: “We’re delighted to offer Tsar and Jamil a lifelong home. At Shamwari they will be lavished with loving, expert care. They will be able to live the rest of their lives peacefully, in spacious enclosures amidst Africa’s natural fauna and flora.”

A rescue like this is a huge undertaking, and it would not be possible without the generous donations from you, our supporters who leapt into action when you heard Tsar and Jamil’s story; and the many organisations who have come together to work in partnership.

We would like to thank the Natalya Popova and UAnimals Wild Animals Rescue Centre and Dr Ewa Zgrabczyńska of Poznań Zoo for their roles in the rescue of Tsar and Jamil; Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC) for caring for the lions for the past two years, and to Shamwari Private Nature Reserve for providing their sanctuary home. Thank you also to key partner British Airways Holidays, who will be funding three years of care for the lions, and Cargolux who are generously flying the brothers to South Africa.


Why can’t Tsar and Jamil go back to the wild?

A young male lions sits facing the camera, while a second young male lion sits on a wooden platform behind him

(c) Natuurhulpcentrum VZW

Sadly, due to Tsar and Jamil’s troubled and complicated start in life, they are not suitable candidates for release to the wild. In the wild, lions have a period of extended care of up to two years from their mother and pride as a whole. During this time, they learn essential skills they require for survival, these include how to hunt, stalk and capture prey for food, as well as skills required to live in a pride, understand hierarchies and deal with conflict.

Since Tsar and Jamil were born in captivity and taken from their mother at a young age, they have never been given the opportunity to learn these essential life skills. The process of humans rehabilitating animals and preparing them for life in the wild is incredibly complex, lengthy and very expensive, and currently for large mammalian predators in particular, has an unacceptably low survival rate.

Animals that have early and extensive exposure to human care often never regain their natural, instinctive fear of humans. This means that, as adults, they are more likely to enter areas of human activity such as, villages and settlements where, understandably, they are perceived as a threat and could come under attack. For all of these reasons combined, Born Free does not currently attempt to reintroduce or release any big cats back to the wild. Instead we give them the best possible captive life we can provide and use their story to try and prevent further cases of wild animal exploitation.

Find out more about Born Free’s Rescue & Care work:

Rescue & Care