Lions rescued from war-torn Ukraine arrive in Yorkshire

Lions rescued from war-torn Ukraine arrive in Yorkshire
One of the lions at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, having been transferred from Ukraine (YWP/PA)

A lion and her three cubs have been saved from a war-torn part of Ukraine and are starting new lives in Doncaster.

Three-year-old Aysa was in a private collection in the Donetsk region when the Russians invaded, according to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park (YWP), where she is now adjusting to new freedoms.

The park said Aysa was alone, malnourished and traumatised by bombings when she was rescued by the Wild Animal Rescue sanctuary in Kyiv, where she gave birth to cubs Emi, Santa and Teddi, before they were all moved to a temporary facility in Poland through work by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine have now arrived at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park (YWP/PA)

YWP said Aysa was separated from her cubs, now 15 months old, at Poznan Zoo in western Poland as they had to be held in adjacent 15ft square concrete holding pens.

On Tuesday, they were driven the 1,000 miles to Yorkshire, arriving at the YWP on Wednesday night and unloaded at their new home on Thursday.

The park said the lions will spend their first few weeks being evaluated and rehabilitated before they are introduced to the public in the Lion Country reserve.

Deputy head of carnivores Colin Northcott said: “I’m over the moon, overjoyed they are finally here.

“Now I can’t wait until they are settled enough to walk on the grass and smell the fresh Yorkshire air.

I can’t wait for them now to run around playing, walking on grass for the first time, seeing the water and the sky. It’s going to be incredible.

Deputy head of carnivores Colin Northcott

“It’s overwhelming to finally have them here with us, just amazing. Our visitors are going to love them. This is a massive new world for them.”

Mr Northcott said: “Even the language they hear will be different. I’m trying to learn a few words in Polish to make them feel more at home.

“But I can’t wait for them now to run around playing, walking on grass for the first time, seeing the water and the sky. It’s going to be incredible.”

Mr Northcott paid tribute to Poznan Zoo who did an “amazing thing” by rescuing them.

But he said: “The rangers over there were also really keen for them to get more space.”

Mr Northcott said: “When we first encountered them, they were extremely distressed, cowering on top of each other and hissing at anyone who came near. I am so happy they are finally here safe.”

YWP, which is also home to polar bears and tigers, has made a name for itself rescuing animals from difficult conditions around the world.

In 2010, it brought 13 lions to Yorkshire from in a run-down Romanian zoo.

Chief executive John Minion said: “It’s a really exciting and emotional time for us.

“It takes me back to 14 years ago when we rescued those 13 lions from Romania.

“Welfare is at the heart of everything we do here. The Romanian rescue was the beginning of Yorkshire Wildlife Park and put us on the map.”

Mr Minion said: “Sadly most of our Romanian lions have died over the years so with just two of the original lions, Carla and Crystal remaining, we now have the space. And welfare is at the heart of what we do here.”

The park said it will post regular updates on the lions’ progress on social media.

IFAW worked with Wild Animal Rescue’s Natalia Popova to get the lions out of Ukraine after their owner fled the war.

Ms Popova said: “It’s a scary time for everyone here in Ukraine.

“But for these big cats that were in the conflict zone – they must have been so frightened and confused.

“Although there are many more animals that need rescuing, I am relieved these lions now have a better life ahead.”

Natalia Gozak, wildlife rescue field officer (Ukraine) at IFAW said: “At long last, this family of lions, who have been the unlikely victims of this invasion, are safe and sound.

“Yorkshire Wildlife Park is well placed to offer these big cats a good life in the park’s Lion Country area, where they have housed numerous lions, often rescued from traumatic situations.

“They will be safe, secure and most importantly – out of the warzone.”

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