Lions rescued from Ukraine are now at Colorado sanctuaries

Seven adult lions and two cubs rescued from a zoo in war-torn Ukraine are now residing at wildlife refuges in Colorado.

The lions were in southern Ukraine at the Biopark Zoo in Odesa, a port city on the Black Sea that has been heavily affected by the Russian war on Ukraine.

The lions arrived at the Wild Animal Sanctuary near Keenesburg, in Weld County, on Oct. 5. The cubs remained there, while the adults were transported the next day to the sanctuary’s extension property, the Wild Animal Refuge, in Springfield in southern Colorado.

“We wanted to get the lions out there as the war continued to escalate,” said Derek McCormick, the Wild Animal Sanctuary’s marketing manager.

At the beginning of the war, a variety of agencies, including the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, Tigers in America and Warriors of Wildlife, worked to move the lions more than 600 miles through Ukraine, according to the Wild Animal Sanctuary. The big cats stayed at the Targu Mures Zoo in Romania for a couple of months while an emergency travel permit was approved.

“We are thankful we could get all the lions out in time and save them. That’s what matters,” said Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, in a news release. “They will live out the rest of their lives in pristine, large, natural habitats.”

Eleven lions were rescued, with nine transported to Colorado and the other two ending up at the Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is composed of three different sites: the 789-acre Keenesburg location, the 9,743-acre Springfield refuge and a 41-acre site in Boyd, Texas.

The refuge was acquired in 2018 when the Keenesburg site hit its capacity. The combined locations are home to more than 600 animals such as tigers, bears, wolves and lions. The nine new lions have settled in comfortably, McCormick said.

“They don’t have to do anything but be lions and live out the rest of their days here,” McCormick said. “This is their forever home.”

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