The war in Ukraine has been a disaster for Ukrainian animals. Wildlife, domestic animals and zoo residents have all been severely impacted by the cruelty, violence and killing.
Just before the war started we were able to report that wildlife around the Chernobyl nuclear accident site was on the rebound.
We have reported on the wildlife disaster several times. Rescue groups have repeatedly come together to save various animals. But hostile forces have committed many atrocities including killing rescue workers and allowing shelter dogs to starve to death.
Today we are reporting on a better story: how the Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) and other rescue groups, including Warriors of Wildlife (WOW)were able to rescue lions from the war-torn area around Odessa. WOW is a sanctuary based in South Africa, an illustration of the international nature of the rescue efforts to date. A number of groups and United States government agencies were involved. The full story comes from the Winter edition of the TWAS Sanctuary print newsletter and is adapted here.
The story begins days after the Russian invasion. Phone calls from Ukraine asked whether TWAS could be part of rescue efforts should they be needed. At first it seemed the war might be short and rescue efforts were focused on moving threatened animals to safety in neighboring countries such as Poland and other European nations.
As the war dragged on an entirely different phone call was taken. Although the Russians had promised not to bomb the city of Odessa, a consortium of American based rescue groups were skeptical and began efforts to rescue 11 lions in the BioPark Odessa.
Scepticism was warranted as the Russians began to bomb Odessa in late March.
TWAS began work on the project soon after. Key players in the rescue included WOW, Greater Good Charities (GGC), The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) Tigers in America (TIA) The Simbonga Game Reserve in Africa and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Time was one of the biggest challenges, logistics the other. The logistics issue was serious but TWAS and the other organizations had experience in the logistics and ethics of moving large predators across local, state and national boundaries. The groups also had access to or the ability to obtain the highly specialized equipment and housing large predators need for safe transport.
There were at least three time hurdles that had to be overcome. Obviously, the lions had to be moved before the zoo was bombed. Second was the inevitable loss of time to logistics, legal forms, paperwork and approvals. The third hurdle actually proved to solve the second. The Tirgu Mures Zoo in Romania agreed to house the 11 lions. But commitments of their own meant the lions had to be on their way by September 28. That proved to be just enough time to get the lions permitted and ready to leave for the United States.
The lions were successfully removed to Romania. The rescue groups were then able to make specialized airline arrangements. Two of the 11 lions are white lions and they were placed in the Simbonga reserve. The other 9 were destined for TWAS in the United States. There were still hurdles as two of the lions were juveniles and not mature enough to travel with the adults.
Special arrangements were made and the 9 lions made it to the Sanctuary. TWAS has about 10,000 acres in three Colorado and Texas locations and the lions are now in devoted habitats as big as 80 acres.
Concluding the article TWAS thanked its financial supporters: “We want to thank you for being so unbelievably generous and kind.”
They also thanked all the support groups and said;
“we feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with anyone and everyone that is willing to give of themselves for the benefit of others.”