Novosibirsk – the South African connection

I stopped riding east. Now I am in a time rush to get to the Russian / Finnish border on 14 July north-west from my present position..

In “Kate” I wrote about a scene close to Dongola after we crossed the Nile on the old ferry. Kate had had real Sunday afternoon blues and was sad to leave the resting place at the Nile. This was how I felt today. I started riding away from so many people that were good to me, treated me well, opened their houses and showed unconditional hospitality. I echoed Kate’s words: Will I ever see them again? Siberia is on the other side from the globe …

After five weeks of riding everything is still fine, I am losing weight, which is good. I eat quite irregular but I really feel good. The only problem is that I sleep too little. I normally fall asleep after midnight and after 3 to 4 hours the daylight wakes me again. Tonight I have to try and get at least 7 hours sleep.

The KLR is still going like a new bike. Today we had our real close shave when a car that stood on the right suddenly made a U-turn directly in front of me. After we missed the car I touched my little cross on the bike and thanked Him for protecting us again.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit Novosibirsk is the South African connection that the city had with South Africa. It all started with a lion.

I have here a few quotes that I got from the internet. I am sure you will enjoy reading it.

The largest of Sub-Saharan Lions, Cape Lion resided for millennia in southern Africa before it finally became extinct in the wild during the mid-nineteenth century. The huge lion, renowned for its thick black mane, used to live in areas that are now part of Cape of Good Hope Province in South Africa, surrounding Cape Town. Classified in scientific nomenclature as Panthera Leo Melanochaitus, the Cape Lion was isolated to a large extent from the modern day South African Lion, Panthera Leo Krugeri, by the Drakensberg Escarpment and thus possessed genetic and physical attributes unique from other lions south of the Sahara.

Not much is known about the distinguishing features that separated Cape Lions from other southern lions of Africa. In fact many still doubt if the Cape Lion was indeed a distinct subspecies of lions with unique genetic markers. However, there are certain physical attributes that characterize the Cape Lions. First is their large size in comparison to lions in neighboring areas. Second is their thick black mane that extended down their back and underneath their belly. The heavy mane was darker than those seen in other groups of lions, and was black throughout its length, apart from a small portion around the face that was brownish in color. Ears were also tipped in black. Face was broad and limbs were strongly built.

There is little documentary evidence about the behavior, hunting and reproductive profile of the Cape Lions apart from anecdotal evidence, paintings and stories of aggressive lion breaching the walls of Dutch colonial castles in the seventeenth century. The Dutch brought many of these magnificent animals back with them to The Netherlands and the animals dispersed later into various zoos and circuses across Europe as their cousins in the wild were gradually hunted into extinction by European settlers of the Cape Colony, through seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Unlike many other species that have been wiped out gradually by loss of land and prey to human encroachment, the extinction of Cape Lions in the wild was relatively abrupt – giving ground to the belief that at least this great cat was lost largely to hunting than any other human intervention. The last lion in Cape Province was killed in 1858 and the last known Cape Lion was shot in what was formerly the Natal Province of South Africa in 1865, bringing a formal end to this glorious animal’s existence in the wild.

As with the Barbary Lion, there remained speculation as regards the existence of genetic lines of Cape Lions in captive animals across the world long after their supposed extinction. However, even as animals with strong genetic and physical resemblance to the Barbary Lions were discovered in the latter half of twentieth century – the search for descendants of Cape Lions proved hopeless.

Has Rare Lion of Africa’s Cape Eluded Extinction?

For 30 years, South African John Spence searched for descendants of the Cape lion, which was thought to be extinct in the region since the 1850s. His search ended a year ago when he received pictures of a magnificent black-maned lion at the Novosibirsk Zoo in Central Siberia.

As a young man, Spence had read about such lions roaming the slopes of Table Mountain and Signal Hill in what is now the modern city of Cape Town. His imagination was fired by stories of massive lions attempting to scale the walls of the 17th-century Dutch castle that was built by Commander Jan van Riebeeck, the city’s founder.

Spence, now the director and a trustee of Cape Town’s Tygerberg Zoo, avidly read van Riebeeck’s journals, which described the lions’ night attacks on local people and their flocks.

By two centuries later, the ferocious Cape Lion had been wiped out—at least in part a matter of self-defense, Spence noted.

Spence came to believe that some Cape lions might have survived outside of South Africa.

"I [was] sure that some of the cubs of the Cape lion were taken to Europe, where they bred with European lions," he said. "Some of them [might have] carried the original genes, and many of these captive European lions also had the black mane."

Lifelong Search

For three decades, Spence searched the world for the "King of the Cape." He visited zoos and circuses in places as far away as the United States and Singapore to inspect animals that bore a resemblance to the Cape lion.

He met with frustration after frustration. He found many lions that were close matches to the Cape lion, but none that looked exactly like the sturdy, massive animals he had read much about.

But his determination never waned. He knew, he said, that "it had to happen sooner or later…there had to be a lion that had a mess of these genes in them from somewhere or other."

In January of 2000, friends in Europe sent Spence a picture of a unique lion they had seen in the world-renowned Novosibirsk Zoo in Siberia.

With its jet black mane, wide face, sturdy legs, and large size, the lion—called Simon—looked exactly like a living reproduction of the animals that Spence had seen only in paintings, and in his dreams.

Spence said that when he saw the photograph, "every hair on my body stood upright, including [on] my neck and my back and everywhere else!"

After contacting the zoo in Siberia, Spence arranged to take Simon’s cubs, Rustislav and Olga (named after the Novosibirsk Zoo curator and his wife) back with him to Africa. They are the first Cape lion look-alikes to inhabit the Cape shores in a century and a half.

The journey home was an adventure in itself. Spence and his wife flew back to Cape Town on Siberia Air, with the cubs in a small traveling crate on the seat beside them. Passengers soon surrounded the couple, curious about the animals, who responded with a few snarls.

The two lions now live in their own pen in the Tygerberg Zoo. They spend their days sleeping in the sun on their own specially made platform.

Spence thinks the warmth of Africa is probably a welcome change for the animals, which were accustomed to Siberian winter temperatures that drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius.

The cubs are already much larger than the full-grown lions in other parts of the zoo. They also bear the unmistakable markings of a juvenile Cape lion. "They’ve got a large number of spots on them, which will obviously fade as they get older, but they were really spotted when we brought them home…and black behind the ears," Spence explained

Spence hopes to eventually use Rustislav and Olga to replenish the Cape lion stock. He also may build them a larger lion reserve, closer to Table Mountain, where their ancestors once roamed.

Wikipedia wrote about the lion in the Novosibirsk zoo:

The lion and his family are kept outdoors in large, natural settings. "It is kept all the year around in the climate conditions of the west Siberia at the temperatures from −49 °C (−56 °F) to 36 °C (97 °F). In forty years, more than sixty cubs were born.

That was then one of the reasons why I wanted to visit the city with the beautiful-sounding name, the city that (perhaps) held the key to the re-introducing of the Cape Lion to South Africa. I wonder how are the two lions Rustislav and Olga doing in the Tygerberg Zoo. Do any of the readers of the Western Cape know anything? I would love to hear any news about them..

A huge thanks to Larisa and Sasha with their son Vladislav who were my hosts during my super short visit to Novosibirsk. Vladislav and his sister Marie took part in a musical and I got a CD as present with the music of the musical on it. I look forward to listening to it.

Now I have a ride of over three thousand kilometer to get to St Petersburg and the AMBER ROOM, my longstanding dream since my ride of 2008.

Don’t forget about Operation Smile! We support those wonderful people while they restore humanity for so many of God’s wonderful creations. Have a look at and give the web address to colleagues, friends and business partners. We can make money do miracles, but let us have those donations please. I will update the donations on the website tomorrow before I lose internet for the rest of the week.

Have a wonderful Sunday evening!

About Lodie

Africa, Africa, Africa!
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2 Responses to Novosibirsk – the South African connection

  1. Christine R-G says:

    The fascinating Cape Lion; his adorable little feline Siberian cousin; the sights and sounds of nature and of universal music. Wonder upon wonder!
    Ride blessed along the highways and byways of our planet!

  2. Christine R-G says:

    This posting remains with me. Amazing.

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