A young male lion stares directly at the camera

Ukraine Lion Appeal

Will you help give lions like Tsar and Jamil a home?

Play video Tsar, a male lion, is galloping as he enters his new enclosure at Shamwari Big Cat Sanctuary

Rescued from war-torn Ukraine, Tsar and Jamil now have a forever home in their ancestral homeland

Taken as cubs from their mother and exploited for entertainment, these brothers have experienced much suffering in their short lives – but now, after an incredible 8,000-mile journey, they have started their new lives on South African soil, at Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve. 

Tsar & Jamil – A survival story

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’.

Two very young lion cubs walking on straw with a wooden wall behind them

Kept in utterly unsuitable conditions, fed a poor-quality diet and without specialist care, the young lions became malnourished and sickly. Thankfully, 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. Despite appalling conditions and the devastating human hardship faced by the country, an incredible 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. Thanks to a caring and dedicated team, 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.

Born Free has been able to give Tsar and Jamil a lifetime sanctuary home – but many more wild animals are suffering and need our help. Please give what you can to support our work, by donating below.

A young male lion is standing facing the camera in a room with wooden panelling

The long journey home…

A world map showing a yellow plane flying from Belgium to South Africa

Transporting two lions over 8,000 miles (13,000km) across Europe and down through Africa is a complex operation.

Many hundreds of hours of planning, evaluation and care has been undertaken by Born Free’s experts and specialists, together with our valued partners Natuurhulpcentrum, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, Cargolux, and British Airways Holidays, to ensure the safety, comfort and security of the lions at every stage of their journey.

That epic re-homing journey began at Natuurhulpcentrum, where 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 South Africa’s Eastern Cape began; every step under the watchful eye of Born Free’s expert animal care team.

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.

Because of their appalling start to life, they haven’t developed the skills they would need to survive in the wild, but at Shamwari they will experience the next best thing.

Give today to help Born Free save more wild animals

How your gift could help

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could buy a health-enhancing vitamin boost for one lion

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could provide quality food to our lions and other big cats for one day

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could provide two days expert care for one lion at Shamwari 

It was with a sense of joy that I learned of the safe arrival of these beautiful lion brothers at wonderful Shamwari in South Africa. After enduring such misery and hardship in their early years, they can now live the rest of their lives as free as possible, just as nature intended. Grass beneath their feet, sun on their backs, and the shade of trees where they can rest whenever they wish. No longer exploited, but respected and cherished. For 40 years our charity, Born Free, has worked tirelessly for individual wild animals like Tsar and Jamil. Their story is the story of Born Free, one of perseverance, hope and change.

Dame Virginia McKenna, Born Free Co-Founder and Trustee


Born Free offers its official thanks to the many generous supporters and wonderful corporate partners who’ve ensured the success of this incredible relocation and made this rehoming a reality. In particular, our key partner British Airways Holidays which has generously donated funds to cover three years’ care for Tsar and Jamil, as well as the cost of the custom-built, specially designed crates used for the lions’ relocation. Also, our air transport partner, Cargolux, for their expert services and for transporting the lions free of charge from Luxembourg to Johannesburg. This truly team effort means these beautiful animals have now found solace in South Africa.