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Image by Nour Wageh




Three Magical Words - Free The Wild

We did it again! Free the wild’s latest rescue mission is complete. Five happy lions and one magnificent tiger received a new lease on life after being transferred from their appalling captivity in Ukraine to their new sanctuary home in South Africa. The big cats touched down in Johannesburg on Friday, 14th January 2022, courtesy of DHL and were then transferred by road to Simbonga Sanctuary in Gqeberha (previously known as Port Elizabeth).


Lioness Jen paces her cramped zoo cage in Ukraine prior to rescue

Our mission started some 6 months ago when we learnt of 7 lions and a tiger’s struggle for life and survival from Lionel De Lange. The cats lived depressing lives in horrific, antiquated concrete cages in Ukraine. They endured freezing conditions in winter, living on concrete floors and looking at the outside world through thick steel bars. None of the cats had ever felt soft soil under their paws, they never knew the smell of grass, neither did they sense the heat of the sun nor experienced the shade of a tree.

Their cramped, caged and neglected conditions in the Ukraine zoo, regrettably led to one of the male lions being killed in a fight before we could complete the rescue and very sadly, another one of the older, frail males suffered a heart-attack and died during sedation. He could not be resuscitated. COVID played a significant role in the loss of these magnificent lions as delayed travel arrangements hampered their earlier release.

Finally, these beautiful big cats have a chance to live out the rest of their lives in peace and care in the warmth of Africa.


We cannot thank everyone involved in this relocation enough. From Lionel and Anya who brought their plight to our attention, their team at Simbonga Sanctuary, the vets in Ukraine, DHL for sponsoring this precious cargo and our amazing Co-founder Cher for all her help and the financial support and care from all our wonderful donors and supporters. On behalf of all of us at Free the Wild, here’s to the lions and the tiger’s future in their happy new home.


Lioness Khaya now free to roam in her new sanctuary home in Simbonga, South Africa.

Thanks to all of you for helping us make this happen and to Si Cunneen Photography for the amazing images.


Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne


Free The Wild















Free The Wild is spearheading a life-changing project for seven lions and a tigress, currently held captive in Ukraine.

Working with established NGOs in Ukraine and South Africa, Free The Wild is raising funds to provide these animals with essential veterinary care and cover the transport fees involved in relocating all eight cats to an approved reserve in South Africa.

We urgently need to raise $70,000 to cover the following costs, split between Ukraine, South Africa;


  • 8x Travel Crates

  • Veterinary assistance

  • Road Transport to airport

  • Flights to South Africa


  • 5x large enclosures at the sanctuary need to be built, including;

    • Fencing

    • Poles

    • Electrics

    • Night shelters

    • Pools

    • Cement

    • Gates

    • Roofing


  • Basic accommodation and transport for associated personnel as well as any unforeseen veterinary, legal and logistical costs.

Everything is already in place to give these animals a new home and a new lease on life. The only thing standing between them and their freedom is your support.

Please spare what you can to help us send them to their new South African home, where they'll be free to feel the grass beneath their feet, see the sky above their heads and be able to be the lions and tigers that they've never had the chance to be.

Four of the seven lions (1 Female and 3 Males) have not been named yet! We'll be offering naming rights to the campaign's biggest contributors, so if you'd like to leave your mark and name a lion after someone you love (or yourself!), please show your support today.

Thank you ❤️

Free The Wild



All seven lions and the tigress originate from two zoos in Ukraine, where they were born in captivity and have continued to live in sordid conditions, wallowing in their own urine, faeces and rotting food behind welded steel bars.

Ukrainian laws with regards to captive wild animals have recently changed, requiring owners to apply for permission, register those animals and build larger enclosures that meet higher standard requirements than ever before. This has added pressure to many zoos and private owners, making it difficult, if not impossible, to keep their animals without significant financial support. The eight big cats in question belong to zoos that simply cannot afford these costs, meaning their lives hang in the balance.

Three of the lions, one female and a brother-sister pair, aged 3 and 2 years respectively, originate from the same zoo, where they live in an old, Soviet Union-style pit enclosure, where they see nothing but concrete and steel every day of their lives.

The other two lions are brothers, coming from a private zoo in the country's mid-west where they were originally in a trio with their sister, but she apparently died in a fight. From the same zoo, the lone tigress is hoping to join the lion brothers, to escape the tortured life she's lived so far. She has no tail as a result of living in close proximity to other big cats, who ripped it off when she fell asleep too close to the edge of her cage. As a result, most of her enclosure is now boarded up, making it darker and even more lonesome. Included in this group is the father of the two lion brothers and another adult male lion.

Established NGOs on the ground in Ukraine have already worked to free and rescue over 20 lions, but we all fear for these cats in particular as their respective facilities no longer have the means to support them, and the easiest solution is simply to have them killed - or worse - send them to another, "more capable" zoo (where they will likely live out the rest of their days in similar, albeit slightly larger enclosures).

Our partners in this effort have already established an approved sanctuary in South Africa as their new home; Simbonga Game Reserve, and made the necessary arrangements to grant TOPs permits to all eight cats.

All these animals need now is your support.



Free The Wild is continuously involved in a number of international wildlife rescue missions.

Please donate today to help us make them a success.

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