Lion Rescue 2 - Donetsk to Doncaster

22nd March 2024

Award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park has won the race against time to save four war-traumatised Ukrainian Lions.

Mum Aysa, 3, and her cubs Emi, Santa and Teddi spent nine months in a holding facility in Poland having escaped Russian bombs. 

The only space available was indoors and the youngsters, now 15 months old have grown up without seeing the sky or having the stimulation of the outside world, but that is all about to change at their new home.

But having crossed six countries and travelled 2,000, miles they finally arrived at their safe haven in Yorkshire on Wednesday night. 

 It was the culmination of a painstaking seven-month operation by Yorkshire Wildlife Park to get clearance for the remarkable rescue. 

Aysa, from a private collection in the Donetsk region was abandoned as Russian invaders occupied Ukraine, leaving her and other animals alone, malnourished and stressed by bombings.

She was rescued and taken to interim sanctuary in Kiev where she gave birth to three cubs before they were all moved to the safety of the temporary facility in Poland.

Mum, Aysa pictured at the temporary facility Poznan Zoo.

Since escaping Ukraine, Aysa has been separated from her cubs, now 15 months old, as they were held in adjacent 15ft square concrete holding pens in Poznan Zoo in western Poland.

They were finally loaded onto a lorry on Tuesday to be driven the 1000 miles to Yorkshire and caught the ferry between Calais and Dover before arriving at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, in Auckley late on Wednesday night.

They were unloaded at their new home on Thursday 21st March.

The lions will spend their first few weeks being evaluated and rehabilitated by the staff at YWP, out of sight from the public until they are ready to take their first steps out into the expansive reserves of Lion Country.

The three cubs, Teddi, Emi and Santa

Deputy Section 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.

“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.

“Poznan Zoo did an amazing thing by rescuing them and the staff over there looked after them really well, they look so healthy and fit. But it pulled at my heartstrings seeing them unable to enjoy the fresh air and the outside world. 

“The rangers over there were also really keen for them to get more space.”

Colin, who visited the lions in Poland so they became familiar with him, added: ‘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.”

The YWP team hand lifting each transportation crate into position

The park is renowned for its animal conservation, having rescued 13 lions from poor conditions in a run down Romanian zoo in 2010 and brought them to Yorkshire.

CEO 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.

John Minion CEO of Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster said “When Lion Country 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.

“One of the lions, Johnny Senior, was 20 plus and took a long time to be brave enough to go out.  He’d never seen grass before.  But he was rehabilitated.  They are never too old.

“So when the opportunity came up to rescue four lions from Ukraine we jumped at it.”

“Lion Country 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.”

Teddi taking his first steps into the lion house

John said a friend of his, who works in animal welfare and had been connected with the Romanian rescue, contacted him on Facebook to tell him about the plight of the Ukrainian lions.

He added: “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.

“Lions are considered a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species- so even though these rescued lions aren’t part of the European breeding programme, we aim to use this as an opportunity to teach our visitors about the importance of protecting this wonderful species as well as the importance of animal welfare.

The Park will post regular updates on the lions’ progress on social media as they settle into their new home before they venture out into Lion Country and visitors on site will be able to see them in their new home on a special screen outside Lion Country.

The three cubs settling into their new home at Lion Country.

The Wildlife Foundation charity, which is based at the park, has been raising funds to help the rescue of the Ukrainian lions and future missions. To donate please click here.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park gives visitors a unique walk-through experience bringing them almost face to face with some of the world’s most beautiful and at risk species, including Black Rhinos, Tigers and the UK’s largest collection of Polar Bears.

Recent breeding successes include the birth of the black rhino calf Rocco and critically endangered Amur leopard cub Auckley.



Get the latest news & offers from Yorkshire Wildlife Park!

See our privacy policy here