Lions rescued from war-torn Ukraine starting new life at Doncaster Wildlife Park

Lions Doncaster
The cubs are adjusting to their new surroundings. Credit: YWP

A lioness and her three cubs saved from war-torn Ukraine 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 and taken to an interim sanctuary in Kiev, where she gave birth to cubs Emi, Santa and Teddi. They were then all moved to a temporary facility in Poland.

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 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.

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

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.

“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.”

The lion cubs were found in 'distress' when they were found, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park said. Credit: YWP

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.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.