Lioness and cubs reunited at Yorkshire Wildlife Park after escaping war-torn Ukraine

A lioness and her three cubs have finally been reunited at a UK wildlife facility after escaping war-torn Ukraine.

Mum Aysa was pregnant when she was found in an abandoned zoo in the Donetsk region after Russia's invasion.

She was subsequently taken to a holding facility in Poland but kept separate from her 18-month-old cubs Emi, Santa and Teddi for nine months.

After travelling 2,000 miles across Europe last month from Poznan Zoo, the lions were brought to Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster, where they have been acclimatising to their new surroundings.

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

Park rangers said they felt like "proud parents" witnessing the long-anticipated reunion on Wednesday.

Deputy head of carnivores, Colin Northcott, said the animals' transformation had been extraordinary.

He said: "On my first visit to their temporary accommodation in Poland, the lions were very timid and scared of every bit of noise. They could not see their surroundings at all. We expected them to be incredibly nervous here, but they have settled down so fast and I am very pleased.

"These new surroundings are a world away from Poland, there is a lot more noise and commotion, but importantly the lions can see everything that is going on around them and where the noise is coming from. This doesn’t seem to scare them as much."

CCTV cameras showed the lions getting used to one another. Credit: Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Teddi was first to be introduced to his new home, emerging from his crate within seconds.

Emi was next, and Santa was third, after taking longer to adjust to her surroundings. Mum Aysa was the last to leave her crate.

Rangers said she was so relaxed "it was almost like she had been there her whole life".

After close monitoring, the cubs were initially introduced through a mesh parting, and then reunited together in one den.

"It’s astonishing to see them go from those scared, cowering lions in Poland to head-rubbing each other throughout the day," said Mr Northcott.

"It does look like a long-lost family get-together. As with all new arrivals, the lions will take a while to settle and will be closely monitored, but we cannot wait for everyone to meet them - they will be a massive hit with the public."

The lions now have access to all the pens in the lion house and a mesh tunnel which runs alongside the seven-acre enclosure they will eventually live in.

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