Kate on Conservation

Forgotten Ukraine lions finally out of lockdown


Right now, it would seem the perfect time for a positive story about freedom and the power of human beings coming together online. Many of us have used the past year or so to make connections on social media, in lieu of the real world, but one particular Facebook group called Abolish Trophy and Canned Hunting International came together to help rescue and relocate four ex-zoo lions kept in abhorrent conditions.

In November last year, I wrote about the work of lion rescuer Lionel de Lange from Warriors of Wildlife and the lions Cecil, Xanda, Joy and Akera who were rescued from zoos, circus, and private owners in and around Ukraine. I’m very excited to post the update that Cecil, Xanda and Joy have now reached their new forever home in the spacious and natural surrounds of a South African lion sanctuary.

A Tale of Four Lions

‘A Tale of Four Lions’ was the name given to the fundraising campaign launched by Wild Africa Foundation and the Abolish Trophy and Canned Hunting International Facebook group – this amazing coalition of people helped to raise the funds to get the Ukrainian lions; Cecil, Xanda, Joy and Akera home to South Africa.

Cecil, Xanda and Joy were confiscated from a private zoo where they lived in extremely bad conditions. Like many other animals in Ukraine, they faced being discarded and sold off, or given away to whoever may want them. When Cecil was no longer useful to his owner, he was taken in by Igor Padalko, who was supposedly creating a zoo and rehab centre. Instead, Cecil was found in cruel and squalid conditions.

Warriors of Wildlife Ukraine lion in rusted cage
Cecil’s former life of misery at a private zoo

Thankfully, hope awaited these lions, with a place confirmed at South Africa’s Love Lions Alive sanctuary. “They will have space to run, rocks to laze on in the sun, shelter from the elements and love. Now is their time to be lions,” Lionel explained to me in our interview last year.

22nd April 2021 was Cecil’s 7th birthday. He was 4 years old when Lionel began negotiations with Andi Rive, who runs Love Lions Alive Project in Swinburne, South Africa.

“Cecil. happy birthday big boy,” Andi posted on Love Lions Alive’s Facebook page. “We are sorry to not be with you yet, but your 8th birthday will be one of a lifetime.”

After a slew of delays — not least due to the small matter of a global pandemic — the lions were due to arrive in their new home just days after Andi shared the birthday message on none other than Earth Day.

These three lions would be joining Luke, who came from the same awful Pokrovsk Zoo as Cecil, Xanda and Joy. 

Luke the lion rescued from Ukraine, enjoying his new life at Love Lions Alive

“If last evening was anything to go by, Luke and the Ukrainian lionesses will roar their country folk in with a warm welcome,” Andi shared, just 24 hours before the trio were due to reach African soil. “Tomorrow evening Cecil will be in this picture. We know Xanda roars very well, we don’t know about Joy and Cecil.

“Here [at the sanctuary] you can see what it is like for a lion to choose to drink when he is thirsty. To fling himself down on the ground for a good roll in the grass when he decides to do so. What it is like to stroll, or take in the sunset, or burst into full roar in discussion with his friends and neighbours. To play a game of sunset chase with his lioness companion.Cecil, Xanda and Joy will enjoy these small freedoms too. Tomorrow evening they will see the sunset at LLA!”

Beautiful Cecil the lion, battered and scarred from years of abuse would be about to experience freedom beyond anything known before in his tragic life

The journey to their ancestral home

On April 27th the lions began their incredible journey to a new life. Their rescuer Lionel de Lange traveled with them, heading from Kherson to Vasylivka where the lions would be loaded into their travel crates and then into a truck.

Next, a 10-hour drive to Borespol, where Cecil, Xanda and Joy would reach Borespol International Airport and receive their veterinary certificates before taking to the air.

Joy, cleared to reach her final destination of South Africa, where she would explore a natural habitat, a world away from the zoo she was rescued from.

“Our 3 lions are in the air,” Andi updated all those following this long-awaited relocation. “Inside metal boxes inside an airplane. Sitting, standing or sleeping. What are they thinking? How mad is this planet?”

Their final international leg of the journey took the form of a flight from Doha to Johannesburg, where Andi and the Love Lions Alive team planned to meet Lionel and the lions at cargo, before finally making the final drive to their new sanctuary home.

A new life awaits at Love Lions Alive…

Joy and Xanda have finally reached their new home at Love Lions Alive

“Joy emerges, shy but brave. Xanda is getting used to being here, and we’re getting used to seeing him like this.

The first updates following the big cats’ arrival were enough to warm the hearts of so many who have followed and supported this long process of rescue and relocation.

However, poor Cecil was about to learn that not all days run smoothly.

“Cecil has retreated. He was far more relaxed and out and about on the first 2 days. Then it rained, so he went undercover, and later he discovered that the electric fence shocks,” Andi penned.

Its on low voltage while he learns about it. He has not once tried to go into the fence or test it, it’s just that he turned around in a circle which put his bum too close to the fence. He’s sooo annoyed about the shock. We’re sorry beautiful boy.

He’ll get over it, but he’s now more shy and a little uncertain.”

All things seem possible in May.

As a new month takes hold and these captivating big cats settle into their new homes, it’s promising to hear that their medical checks are going well.

“Dr Peter Caldwell came to see the lions this morning. Both Xanda and Joy were on their shelter roof,” Andi reported on the 5th May.

“Dr Peter was happy with their progress, he feels there is already an improvement. He recommends we continue with the protocol he set for Joy, Xanda  and Cecil last week.”

Xanda explores the area around his shelter

After his encounter with the electric fence, Cecil, is noted as being a curious cat; watching everything with great interest and listening keenly to the sounds up at camp. He is extremely vigilant about food, and looks out for his meat.

“We can’t, however, feed him too much,” Andi explains. “He’s found 3 favourite spots and he moves between them, but doesn’t walk around much. We can see that he walks with discomfort, he’s stiff and weak.”

“His course of antibiotics is now complete and we can see a definite improvement in him both physically and emotionally. His face is noticeably improved with fur beginning to grow over his scars.”

“Cecil is overall a calm, gentle, inquisitive guy. He makes a soft little sound of inquiry and interest when the other lions are vocal.”

“He roared last night for the first time since his initial roaring on the first 2 days.”

Continue following the lions’ new life through Love Lions Alive Facebook page, or visit the Love Lions Alive website: lovelionsalive.one

If you’d like to learn more about Warriors of Wildlife and support their work, head to: https://www.wowukraine.org/donations or https://www.facebook.com/wowukr/

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