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(Poznań, 14 June 2023) – A lion, a lioness and her three cubs crossed the Ukraine-Poland border, reaching safety at Poznań Zoo after traveling for close to 20 hours out of war-torn Ukraine.
The evacuation of these big cats is made possible through a collaboration between IFAW, Wild Animal Rescue, UAnimals and Poznań Zoo. In total, over a dozen big cats including lions, tigers and leopards will be moved to safer locations outside of Ukraine.
The mother lion, three-year-old Asya, was rescued while heavily pregnant from a private breeder in the Donetsk region and gave birth to three lion cubs in October. Although the cubs, named Teddi, Emi and Santa, have had a traumatic start in life, they are fortunate enough to still be nursing from their mother, and have had little human interaction.
The male lion, two-year-old Akeru, was also rescued from the same breeding facility but is believed to be unrelated to the others.
The lions were surrendered to Wild Animal Rescue, a rescue centre jointly operated by Natalia Popova and UAnimals near Kyiv. The owners could no longer care for them due to the impact of the war. IFAW helped Wild Animal Rescue to organise the rescue and transportation to Poznań Zoo, where they will be cared for during a one-month quarantine period.
“These are the unexpected victims of this war. Lions – that should be roaming the plains of Africa, have instead been found in backyard breeding facilities in my country ravaged by Russian invasion. As their owners were forced to flee, they were left to languish,” says Natalia Gozak, Wildlife Rescue Field Officer (Ukraine) at IFAW. “While they will sadly never be released into the wild – we are glad they will live the rest of their lives in safety and without being traded as exotic pets,” she added.
As the majority of big cats bred in captivity cannot be released back to the wild and space in high-quality care facilities is limited, Poznań Zoo – together with partners – identifies suitable homes in or outside of Europe where they will receive lifelong care.
“It’s a scary time for everyone here in Ukraine. And these big cats are not only another victim of the Russian invasion, but also suffered from human exploitation. Although there are many more animals that need rescuing—I am relieved these lions now have a better life ahead,” Natalia Popova, Wild Animal Rescue, said.
“Whenever we welcome new animals from Ukraine here—it is an emotional time. On the one hand, we are happy they have arrived safe, but it is also sad to think about the circumstances that brought them here,” said Ewa Zgrabczyńska, Poznań Zoo. “Our priority is making them as comfortable as possible here until they go to their forever homes.”
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Note to editors
- The European Union (EU) continues to be one of the biggest importers of animals destined for the exotic pet trade. Only a very small fraction of the species in trade are actually covered by international and/or EU legislation. Many species still allowed in EU trade are protected in non-EU countries under domestic legislation but have nonetheless been caught in the wild and exported in violation of the country of origin’s national law. (Report: Stolen Wildlife IV, 2022)
- The EU remains a main hub, transit point and destination for illegally sourced wildlife to supply the exotic pet trade – and EU residents are among the key smugglers, traders and clients for such species. (EUROPOL, Environmental Crime in the Age of Climate Change – Threat assessment 2022)