Meet the warrior fighting for the rights of animals

Meet the warrior fighting for the rights of animals

He’s a South African animal activist fighting for the rights of animals in the Ukraine. He rescues lions, bears, wolves and tigers from unscrupulous animal traders and zoos. Terence Pillay speaks to Lionel de Lange who risks life and limb to rescue animals in need.


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On the 2oth November 2018, four rescued lions, abused at the hands of animal traders and cruel owners, left the Ukraine and was relocated to a sanctuary in South Africa. The cats were rescued by Lionel de Lange, a South African animal activist living in Ukraine. All four cats were born in captivity in the Eastern European country. 

While there is a growing awareness of animal rights issues in the Ukraine, the ownership of exotic animals has been regarded as a status symbol for the rich and politically elite. Disgraced, former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych, built a million-dollar  extravagant palace and zoo, before he emptied the country’s coffers and fled to Russia in 2014. The subsequent revolution and ongoing war with Russia have resulted in many of these zoos being abandoned, along with the helpless animals caged inside. 

It was just after Yanukovych plunged his country into a civil war that Lionel unwittingly found himself leading a frantic mission to save zoo animals in his newly adopted country. He had emigrated two years before, after falling in love with the place and its people while on holiday. 

Sadly, the conflict meant that funding to his local zoo in Nikolaev, dried up. All resources were directed to the army.  Lionel started a drive amongst his neighbours to collect food for the creatures holed up inside. Word got out, and suddenly he was receiving calls from the Kiev zoo and people reporting abandoned animals in cages all over the country. 

Four years on, and the seven foot South African, with a booming voice and a can-do attitude has become a formidable force when it comes to saving wildlife abandoned or being kept in captivity. 

It was while he was out rescuing brown bears from a privately-owned zoo in Sambir, west of Kiev, that he came across Luca, Charlie and Kai. The three lionesses had been forced to share a thirty five square meter cage and cold concrete floor for at least four years.

Supplied: Terence Pillay

Nathan was sold to a private collector when he was two months old. He was dumped in a concrete and steel cage just fifteen square meters. As a male lion coming into his prime, he has been unable to stretch his legs, explore, or even enjoy the simple pleasure of lazing in the sun.

Lionel was able to negotiate with authorities and the cats were release into his care. To ensure no other animal would ever be locked up at Sambir again, Lionel demolished the cages. 

He then had to raise money to build temporary enclosures while preparing them for the long journey that would take them to their forever home in South Africa.

Lionel says it was incredible to see how the lions reacted to the bigger enclosures. They finally had a chance to be lions. They took to playing, wrestling, stalking each other and lazing in the sun. For the first time, these regal creatures got to roll around on grass, instead of cement. 

The lions have been vaccinated, chipped and documented in accordance with CITES in preparation for their journey. 

Ukraine is now heading into winter, with temperatures plummeting to minus forty! The journey to Africa for these lions needed to happen now, with Lionel securing final donations from caring people all over the world to get the job done.

 The lions will be relocated to the Kragga Kamma Game Park in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa where they will be homed in a very large roam free enclosure. The team at Kagga Kamma have been busy preparing for the arrival of their special guests by replanting trees and creating an enriched environment for the cats.

Watch one of his amazing videos below

You can engage with Lionel at or 

Feel free to email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there.

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