Qatar Airways Repatriates 7 Lions To Natural Habitat

Qatar Airways has kept a promise to fly lions back to their natural habitats free of charge. The lions, which have spent their lives in captivity, won’t truly be able to return to the wild. However, they will join a nature reserve to spend the rest of their days in their proper habitat.

Qatar Airways, Special Cargo, Lions
Qatar Airways has flown seven lions rescued from captivity from Ukraine to South Africa. Photo: Qatar Airways

In February this year, Qatar Airways pledged to support a wildlife rehoming scheme. Under its ‘WeQare’ sustainability program, the airline launched a sub-program, known as ‘Rewild the Planet’. The program essentially sees the airline flying animals back to their natural habitat without any change from the airline.

A seven lion cargo

Since the start of COVID-19, we’ve seen some reasonably interesting cargo flights. Australia’s emergency seafood flights instantly spring to mind. Qatar has also gotten involved in the fishy transportation scheme with seafood flights from Norway. Now, the Doha-based carrier has turned to another branch of the animal kingdom, mammals.

At 11:54 on Tuesday, April 27th, a Qatar Airways Boeing 777 departed from Kiyv as flight QR8889. The flight was carrying rather special cargo. In the belly of the aircraft were three lions, one lioness, and three lion cubs.

Qatar Airways, Special Cargo, Lions
The lions flew from Kyiv to Johannesburg on two flights over three days via Doha. Photo:

According to the airline, the lions have lived in captivity for years. As such, they’ll never be able to be released into the true wild. Following a three-day journey via Doha and Johannesburg, the kings and queens of the jungle arrived in the Kouga and Swinburne nature reserves in South Africa.

Here, they were able to feel grass underneath their feet for the first time. Initially, the lions will be kept in a smaller protected area to assimilate to their surroundings. They will then be allowed into the more expansive nature reserve areas.

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Carrying lions on flights

You may have some trouble if you try to check in a lion at the check-in desk or even at oversized baggage. Given the delicate nature of flying live creatures, transporting the animals required several parties to work together.

Naturally, handlers from Qatar Airways’ live animal division were present for the entire operation. The lions were also accompanied by members of the NGO Warriors for Wildlife. Special holding areas were set up to ensure that the NGO workers could constantly monitor the animals throughout the journey.

Qatar Airways, Special Cargo, Lions
The lions will live out the rest of their lives in South African nature reserves. Photo: Qatar Airways

Lionel De Lange is the Founder and Director of Warriors for Wildlife. Commenting after the mission, he said,

“Repatriating wild animals is a major undertaking, especially over such a great distance. But we were able to count on the Qatar Airways Cargo teams who are 100% behind us and the work we do. They played a critical role. Without them, these seven lions would still be in captivity in atrocious conditions. So thank you on their behalf.”

What do you make of Qatar Airways’ roarsome cargo? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!