The Great Trek: Ukrainian lion

The Ukranian lion cubs are rehoused at the new Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary in the Western Cape. Image : Pixabay

The Great Trek: Ukrainian lion cubs resettled in Western Cape

The five neglected lion cubs rescued from Ukraine in 2019 have finally reached their forever home in the Western Cape.

The Great Trek: Ukrainian lion

The Ukranian lion cubs are rehoused at the new Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary in the Western Cape. Image : Pixabay

Qatar Airways recently participated in relocating captive wildlife from Ukraine to South Africa. Here is another success story of rescue lion cubs being resettled in our country. In November 2019, Jacaranda FM’s Good Morning Angels helped to relocate five lion cubs from appalling conditions in Ukraine, to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa.


Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary located in the Groot Marico area of the North West Province became home to the cubs for a year and a half after their arrival in South Africa in late 2019.

Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary’s founder, Jurg Olsen had been taking in captive wildlife for several years. The Good Things Guy reports that the sanctuary provided refuge to twelve lions and two tigers. However, the arrangement could not continue forever.


Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary had been leasing the land it was using for the sanctuary.  Last year, the landowners notified Ubuntu’s Jurg Olsen of their intention to restart their private hunting business on their land. Unfortunately, this meant that Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary would have to relocate.

The future looked bleak for the 12 lions and two tigers that had spent their early days out of captivity at Ubuntu.  The sanctuary would need to find other premises to continue its work with the rescued animals.


Wildlife supporter, André De Goede, heard about the predicament facing Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary. De Goede decided to get involved. He purchased 1650 hectares of land in the Western Cape and donated the land to Ubuntu Wildlife, as a sanctuary for its rescue animals.

It is intended that the reserve will provide a permanent home for rescued animals from all parts of the world. The Ubuntu family will grow soon, with four more tigers from Argentina on their way. In addition, the construction of a new rhino orphanage will start soon.


The newly acquired sanctuary borders on a reserve belonging to Cape Nature, which makes it an ideal permanent home for Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary. Construction of camps for the lions and tigers was carried out. The final hurdle to be overcome was the move from Groot Marico to Oudtshoorn. 

The logistics and safety measures needed to ensure the safe relocation of these big cats on their 1500 kilometre road journey to Oudtshoorn neared completion when another challenge surfaced.


The relocation of 12 lions (including the five now fully grown cubs that were rescued from Ukraine in late 2019) and two tigers hit a stumbling block when Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary was unable to cover the costs of relocating its resident cats to their new reserve over 1 500km away.

Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary operates as a non-profit organisation. It did not have sufficient funds to cover the cost of moving the five rescue lion cubs, seven other lions and two tigers from North West province to the Western Cape.


Jacaranda FM’s Good Morning Angels came on board to help raise awareness and funding for the operation.  Funds were raised through donations from sponsors. This would cover the costs of transporting the animals to their new home.   

Nelspruit-based internet services company UNIWISP, amongst others, responded to the call by sponsoring R20 000 plus the transport, drivers and diesel needed for the move. The operation became known as the Great Trek due to the scale of the operation.


On 23 May the relocation got underway. The 12 lions and two tigers at Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary in the North West province would finally head to their new premises between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay in the Western Cape.

At 8.00 on Saturday 23 May, wildlife veterinarian Dr Peter Caldwell, the Ubuntu team and project volunteers started preparing the cats for the journey.  One by one, the 12 lions and 2 tigers were darted, injected with vital medications, put into their crates and loaded onto vehicles and trailers before being awoken. The process took eight hours.

A convoy consisting of 16 vehicles began the 20-hour journey to Oudtshoorn at 16.00 the same day.  At 12.00 on Sunday 24 May, the convoy arrived at the gate of the new sanctuary in the Western Cape.  One by one, the crates were lifted off the vehicles and carried to the various camps before each animal was released into its new home.

Last to be released were the 5 lions from Ukraine: Sahara, Maya, Mia, Macy and Mufasa.  The five have become a close-knit family.  Together, they explored their new home as a well-bonded family.