Peace at last for the lions that only know war: British conservationists battle to save shellshocked lion and lionesses raised and kept in war-torn Ukraine


British conservationists have launched an urgent appeal to rescue five shellshocked lions from Ukraine.

The Big Cat Sanctuary, based in Kent, hopes to evacuate a group of African lions who are currently living in critical conditions in war-torn Kyiv.

They include Rori, a male lion, and four lionesses – Vanda, Yuna and sisters Amani and Lira.

The lions, who are temporarily living in a shelter, have already had a traumatic life – with some rescued from private homes where they had been kept in dreadful conditions.

The charity is working alongside the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to relocate them and build a new rescue centre at the Sanctuary.

The Big Cat Sanctuary, based in Kent, hopes to evacuate a group of African lions who are currently living in critical conditions in war-torn Kyiv
The Big Cat Sanctuary, based in Kent, hopes to evacuate a group of African lions who are currently living in critical conditions in war-torn Kyiv
Amani and Lira were clearly conceived and born during the war
Amani and Lira were clearly conceived and born during the war
The big cats currently in Kyiv include Rori, a male lion (pictured) and four lionesses – Vanda, Yuna and sisters Amani and Lira
The big cats currently in Kyiv include Rori, a male lion (pictured) and four lionesses – Vanda, Yuna and sisters Amani and Lira
The ongoing war has caused considerable distress to the big cats
The ongoing war has caused considerable distress to the big cats
The lions, who are temporarily living in a shelter, have already had a traumatic life – with some rescued from private homes where they had been kept in dreadful conditions
The lions, who are temporarily living in a shelter, have already had a traumatic life – with some rescued from private homes where they had been kept in dreadful conditions
Sisters Amani and Lira were rescued from a breeding facility in Ukraine, where they were found kept in an enclosure with their mother and father
Sisters Amani and Lira were rescued from a breeding facility in Ukraine, where they were found kept in an enclosure with their mother and father
It is thought there were plans to use some of the lions for illegal breeding
It is thought there were plans to use some of the lions for illegal breeding

‘When we heard about the heart-breaking plight of these lions, we knew we had to do something, even though we don’t have the space at the Sanctuary right now’, Cam Whitnall, of The Big Cat Sanctuary, said.

‘We immediately got to work, trying to find out how to make this idea a reality with IFAW. It’s a race against time, but we are determined to give them the best possible forever home they can have – that’s our mission because they deserve it after all they’ve been through.’

Natalia Popova has been rescuing and rehoming hundreds of wild animals and pets devastated by the war in Ukraine including bears, leopards, tigers, monkeys, camels, hyenas and peacocks.

She is coordinating the lions’ current shelter at Wild Animal Rescue and said the big cats have been left ‘frightened and confused’.

‘Some were born during the conflict and know no life other than the constant chaos of war,’ she said.

‘Some have been directly impacted by shelling. I am relieved these lions now have a better life ahead.’

The ongoing war has caused considerable distress to the big cats.

Yuna, a three-year–old female, was found by military volunteers in February 2023, where she was kept in a house in inadequate conditions along with a male lion.

It is thought there were plans to use them for illegal breeding, and both lived in a tiny enclosure with a bare, concrete floor.

Yuna could hardly stand when she was taken to her current shelter at Wild Animal Rescue.

In January 2024, during a large-scale Russian missile attack, debris fell approximately 300m from Yuna’s enclosure.

The blast was so intense it caused a serious concussion, which led to a complete loss of coordination. For a long time, Yuna would stay cowered in a corner of her enclosure, growling and showing signs of stress.

Vanda, a young lioness about one year old, was rescued from a private owner in southeastern Ukraine. She was kept in an apartment by a military person, who kept her as a pet with his family
Vanda, a young lioness about one year old, was rescued from a private owner in southeastern Ukraine. She was kept in an apartment by a military person, who kept her as a pet with his family
Yuna could hardly stand when she was taken to her current shelter at Wild Animal Rescue
Yuna could hardly stand when she was taken to her current shelter at Wild Animal Rescue
'When we heard about the heart-breaking plight of these lions, we knew we had to do something, even though we don't have the space at the Sanctuary right now', Cam Whitnall, of The Big Cat Sanctuary, said
‘When we heard about the heart-breaking plight of these lions, we knew we had to do something, even though we don’t have the space at the Sanctuary right now’, Cam Whitnall, of The Big Cat Sanctuary, said
It is thought three-year-old Rori, the male lion, was also used for illegal breeding. When he was rescued in January 2023 he could not stand and was suffering from serious coordination issues, likely caused by shell shock
It is thought three-year-old Rori, the male lion, was also used for illegal breeding. When he was rescued in January 2023 he could not stand and was suffering from serious coordination issues, likely caused by shell shock
Natalia Popova is coordinating the lions' current shelter at Wild Animal Rescue and said the big cats have been left 'frightened and confused'
Natalia Popova is coordinating the lions’ current shelter at Wild Animal Rescue and said the big cats have been left ‘frightened and confused’
Vanda is only one-year-old and was rescued from a flat in Southeastern Ukraine
Vanda is only one-year-old and was rescued from a flat in Southeastern Ukraine

Vanda, meanwhile, is only one-year-old and was rescued from a flat in Southeastern Ukraine. She had been kept as a family pet but had no access to sun or a suitable enclosure, and was severely malnourished.

Sisters Amani and Lira were rescued from a breeding facility in Ukraine, where they were found kept in an enclosure with their mother and father.

It is thought three-year-old Rori, the male lion, was also used for illegal breeding. When he was rescued in January 2023 he could not stand and was suffering from serious coordination issues, likely caused by shell shock.

Natalia Gozak, Wildlife Rescue Field Officer at IFAW said: ‘Ukraine is now no stranger to tragedy, and the stories of these big cats are no different.

‘I am happy that, at least for them, they are heading to a safer place. The Big Cat Sanctuary has offered permanent homes to the remaining lions that IFAW is supporting, including Yuna, who we feared might not be homed due to her psychological issues.’

As the costs of building the new rescue facility, transporting the lions and providing veterinary care are substantial, the Big Cat Sanctuary are appealing to the public for donations.

This article by Xantha Leatham was first published by The Daily Mail on 2 May 2024. Lead Image: British conservationists have launched an urgent appeal to rescue five shellshocked lions from Ukraine.

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