Two lions who met an uncertain fate in Ukraine settle into their lush new home in South Africa at the end of a 9,000-mile journey across two continents.
Mir and Simba were flown out of Romania two weeks ago after being taken by road to temporary accommodation in the country, where they spent seven months prior to the move.
They are now relatively free to roam the grass and may even have lionesses for company.
Simba was originally rescued from a zoo near the front line in eastern Ukraine by a British man and his companion, who put the big cat in the back of a truck.
Another seven adults and two juveniles, relocated on a separate mission, were brought on the same flight from Bucharest, but were transferred to a sanctuary in the US after the group separated in Doha.
Me and Simba are now adjusting to grass, trees and spring weather more similar to their natural habitat after the Warriors of Wildlife (WOW) oversaw the final stages of the move to their ‘eternal’ home at Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary.
Lionel De Lange, founder and director of the non-profit group, told Metro.co.uk: “They have settled in really well, eating and drinking well and adjusting to their new surroundings.
“I’m more confident than Simba, who is a bit more cautious, but that will change.
“It’s great to see them settling in. I tell myself I’ll get used to it but every time we bring lions here it’s amazing to see them step on their grass and dirt for the first time.
“Every time it’s a special, special moment. The lions will never hear another grenade near them and they will be safe and cared for here for the rest of their lives.’
Simba was rescued by British war veteran Tim Locks and his colleague Jonathan Weaving in March after they drove across Ukraine to a closed zoo in Zaporizhia Oblast.
The big cat then joined Mir, who had been relocated from a facility that could no longer afford to pay its upkeep to a municipal zoo across the border in the northeastern city of Suceava.
Along with Russian missiles and shelling, the creatures were in danger due to dwindling funds for their veterinary care and food cravings as their original homes saw sharp drops in income.
On September 27, the pair were flown out of Bucharest in the hold of a Boeing Dreamliner, along with the pride of nine lions who were also being temporarily held in Romania after being evacuated from Ukraine.
The pack, which WOW and British animal group Breaking the Chains helped to rescue, was taken to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
Mir and Simba now have introductory enclosures of quarter hectare each in the 14,000 square meter reserve in the Eastern Cape a few weeks before the South African summer.
“They are in enclosures next to each other and there are other lions around them,” Mr De Lange said.
“We have three individual females that we put in the pens next to them and see how they react to each other. Hopefully over time we can get her on standby with the vets in case something goes wrong.
“There will be no breeding because the females are spayed, but we would like to put them together.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure they don’t have to spend the rest of their lives alone.”
Transporting the pride of nine lions over 600 miles in four vehicles through Ukraine, Moldova and Romania under wartime conditions was a complicated undertaking involving police escorts.
A team of 13 sedated the animals and loaded them into crates for the journey to their temporary home in the city of Targu Mures in central Romania. Simba and Mia were already at their stop in the country.
A guiding principle of Warriors of Wildlife is that animals should never be allowed in zoos, so the next phase of the mission involved further complex logistics to fly the creatures to the reserves.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary has two parks in Colorado and another in Texas that together cover more than 10,000 acres.
Mr De Lange spoke to South Africa’s Metro.co.uk at the conclusion of an effort in which governments, animal rescuers, zoo workers and security personnel have joined forces across international borders to bring back the lions, who belong to an endangered species.
The main focus of global relief efforts remains the people affected by the invasion and increased bombardment of civilian areas by Russian forces.
But at the end of what is seen as the biggest rescue of lions from an active war zone yet, Mr De Lange told Metro.co.uk that his group was one of the few to rescue animals from serious danger.
“There are many, many organizations that help people,” he said.
“The animals don’t demand or deserve to be where they are. We humans put them in that situation, so it’s up to us to get them out and give them a better life.”
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/10/11/lions-simba-and-mir-arrive-at-new-home-after-being-rescued-in-ukraine-17544641/ Lions Simba and Mir arrive at their new home after being rescued in Ukraine