Bid to bring lions abandoned in Ukraine to Doncaster's Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Ukrainian lions
Cubs Emi, Santa and Teddi Credit: Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Animal rescuers are hoping to bring a lioness found abandoned in war-torn Ukraine to the UK – along with her ten-month-old cubs.

Three-year-old Aysa was pregnant when the private zoo where she was being kept, in the Donetsk region, was abandoned as Russian forces advanced last year.

She was rescued and taken to a sanctuary near Kyiv, where she gave birth to three cubs, Emi, Santa and Teddi. They were then moved to a temporary holding facility at Poznan Zoo in Poland. 

Plans are now being drawn up to bring the family to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

The park's deputy head of carnivores Colin Northcott, who went to Poland to plan the transfer, said: "The lions were so distressed when I first encountered them."The cubs cowered on top of each other in the corner and often hissed and spat loudly at me. Seeing them so terrified made me feel desperately sorry for them.

Lioness Aysa was pregnant when she was found abandoned. Credit: Yorkshire Wildlife Park

"They were extremely nervous and tried to get as far away as possible from me. This was completely understandable considering what they have been through. By the end of the week that I was there, they were starting to trust me more so I felt terrible leaving them behind.

"They have experienced so much trauma and deserve a wonderful new life in Yorkshire. We need to get them here as fast as possible."

The park, in Doncaster, has a history of rescuing animals from difficult conditions. In 2010 13 lions were brought over from a Romanian zoo.

The cubs were said to be 'traumatised'. Credit: Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Mr Northcott said recordings of sounds from the park were played to the lions in Poland to familiarise them with their potential new home.

He added: “After spending some time with the lions, they have become more comfortable with me, and I hope to continue this progress in Yorkshire. We can’t wait to rescue them and offer them a fresh beginning within the park."

John Minion, chief executive of Yorkshire Wildlife Park, added: "When [the lion enclosure] was built for the rescue of the 13 lions from Romania in 2010, it was built with the help of donations from people who loved animals and wanted to help rescue the animals.

"It was always meant to be a welfare facility and now we are in a position where we can offer a home to these poor lions and hope that we can make a difference to their lives, just as we did for the Romanian lions in 2010."

The park, which is home to more than 400 animals, is now working with Polish authorities to arrange the required paperwork for the transfer.

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