The pride of lions at Yorkshire Wildlife Park were rehomed from Oradea Zoo in Romania where due to lack of funds and expertise they were kept in very poor conditions. At the time, Lion Rescue was the largest big cat rescue in Europe. They now live happily, roaming their seven acre reserve at Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
In Romania, the lions were living in filthy concrete pens, fed on a meagre diet of scraps and faced an uncertain future. The new director, Diaina Ghender, realised that the zoo could not care for them and contacted YWP to see if they could rehome the lions.
At the time, YWP was a new park and did not have the funds to rehome and care for the lions but with the help of the News of the World launched a massive campaign `Lion Rescue’. The public rallied for the cause and raised £150,000 which helped bring the lions back to Yorkshire. A team of big cat experts from zoos around the UK travelled to Romania to help load the 13 lions. The snow did not help! The lions arrived in February 2010 – Jet2.com donated the use of a plane and with special permission, they were allowed to land at Doncaster Airport. The pilot began his descent from Amsterdam in order to mitigate the effect of the pressure on the lions’ ears! The world’s media was watching and the lions became world famous overnight.
The 13 lions included two cubs, Dani and Simba who were then aged just eight months old, and Jonny Senior who was 27 years old. All the lions rediscovered their health and have been a favourite with visitors here at YWP in the purpose built Lion Country. Nine years on there are 7 lions in Lion Country: Simba, Maria, Carla, Crystal, Julie, Allis and Ares.
Lion Rescue is and will always be one of the greatest achievements of YWP. At the fifth anniversary of their rescue Director Cheryl Williams stated:
“Whatever else we achieve Lion Rescue will always be special as it was the first time we really made a difference for a group of animals on a significant scale and demonstrated that YWP is about animal welfare as well as conservation. Everyone who supports us should be proud.”Cheryl Williams, Director
Listed as a vulnerable species, African lion numbers have been reduced from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands in the last few decades. Once found throughout the vast African continent, they are now in just a handful of protected areas in southern and East Africa. The main threats to the lions are disease spread by domestic animals like dogs, hunting, poaching and Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC).
The Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation launched a major programme in August 2015 to help save lions in the wild. The charity is funding a three year £34,500 initiative in a national reserve in Mozambique to protect the carnivores.
The landmark project, which is implemented by Fauna and Flora International will pay for a whole range of new measures, including the recruitment of rangers to track and monitor the lions. Much of the funds came from visitors to Yorkshire Wildlife Park making donations after enjoying its magical walk through experience coming close to some of the world’s most beautiful and endangered species, including the magnificent pride of lions rescued from a Romanian zoo.
The work will take place at the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique (which also helps protect Painted Dogs that live in the same range) and the partnership represents a major advance to combat poaching and disappearing habitat. The new scheme will co-ordinate modern computer mapping, data sharing with the efforts of field scouts and rangers.
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