The Warriors of Wildlife environmental organisation completed a successful rescue mission when it extracted two long-suffering lions from the Ukrainian war zone recently.
The two “prisoners of war” were collateral damage in the conflict between Russia and its neighbours and were locked away in cages in what the organisation, known as WOW, termed as “unacceptable conditions”.
They were initially moved to a secure facility in Romania before being flown to South Africa to be released at the Simbonga Game Farm Sanctuary between Gqeberha and Jeffreys Bay.
Lionel de Lange, who once lived in the Ukraine, founded the non-governmental entity in 2014 and has been running it ever since to save and relocate abused wildlife in that country.
“Now we are helping animals that are being affected by the Russian invasion. We have placed the lions (christened Simba and Mir) in our big-cat sanctuary just outside Gqeberha.
“Mir, which means peace in Ukrainian, was going to be shot if I did not take him while Simba would not have survived as the city where he came from was under constant attack.”
De Lange said the sedation and loading of the pair had been the least of their problems as the bigger danger was the unpredictability of the Russian attacks.
Relying on funds from sponsors and private donors, the animals were transported to the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, followed by a taxing 15-hour drive to Gqeberha.
“The Kelston Motor Group, which has always shown an interest in our work, provided two Mahindras and trailers to transport the animals,” said De Lange.
Having safely negotiated the journey, he said it was now about letting the animals, which are not related, adjust to their new environment. He explained that one could not put “strangers” together from the outset.
“Currently they are in their own enclosures but we will see how they react to their surroundings and the lion neighbours and start assessing relationships that may be forming.”
Simbonga is also home to a rescued tiger as well as free-roaming giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, nyala, kudu, impala, waterbuck and blesbok. In addition, several troops of monkies and a variety of birdlife live on the property.
“We are here to provide a safe haven for any and all wildlife,” said De Lange.
Kelston operations director Peter McNaughton said the plight of the animals had been brought to their attention by staff member Justin du Preez.
“Justin became involved at Simbonga through his BNI (Business Network International) network as there is a synergy between the Peugeot Pride and Simbonga Pride programmes,” he said.
“Then, of course, there is Kelston’s Eastern Cape footprint and community involvement. From all angles it was a good cause to support.”
McNaughton said the group of dealerships had supported community projects – largely for domestic animals – in the past but that this was its first involvement in a conservation project of this magnitude.
“It is good to have played a role in rescuing these animals from the horrors of war and to have them relocated to our home province.”
The public can visit the sanctuary on daily tours but need to book in advance.