It’s considered part of the largest war-zone rescue operation of lions ever carried out, but now nine of the big cats whisked from a zoo in Ukraine are safely at their new home in Colorado, while two more are in South Africa.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary said the international rescue mission of a pride of 11 lions from the Bio Park Zoo in Odesa has now ended seven adults and two cubs settling into its facility in Keenseburg, CO.
Another two male lions are getting use to life at the Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
“International rescue operations are almost always more complex in nature, but then you are factoring in a variety of foreign governments and timelines for permitting, some of those with active warzones,” Pat Craig, Executive Director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary said in an Oct. 7 statement.
“We are thankful we could get all the lions out in time and save them. That’s what matters. They will live out the rest of their lives in pristine, large, natural habitats,” Craig added.
The lions were “urgently relocated” soon after Russia attacked Ukraine earlier this year, according to The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
The pride of big cats travelled almost 1,000 kilometres from the southwestern port city, across Ukraine and Moldova before arriving in Romania on May 24.
That’s where the Targu Mures Zoo gave them a temporary home until an emergency travel permit could be obtained for international rescue flights.
While nine lions arrived Sept. 29 at their forever home Colorado, the other two lions traveled to the Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary in South Africa as part of the international rescue effort.
Those lions, Simba and Mir, are now getting used to life on the Eastern Cape.
“Mir & Simba are continuing to adjust to their new home,” according to WOW Ukraine – Warriors of Wildlife. “Mir has been enjoying the South African sun and bush, where as Simba is still very scared of this big new world that surrounds him and prefers his shelter most of the time.”
The mission involved a consortium of global animal welfare agencies, which continue to ty to help animals suffering through Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
“Our hearts are heavy to know how many people and animals have suffered, and continue to suffer in Ukraine; but for Mir, Simba, and the Odesa 9, that suffering is finally over,” Warriors of Wildlife posted on Facebook this month.
“Welcome home, beautiful boys,” the Simbonga sanctuary wrote.
“We are in awe with our newest sanctuary residents,” it added.