Tammy Thies, founder and executive director of The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota, shared in a release on Wednesday that the four lions — all younger than four months old — traveled out of Ukraine and were on the move for 36 hours before arriving safely at the Poznan Zoo in Poland, where they’ll stay until international transport permits are obtained.
Thies added that the sanctuary has been working for months to secure the future of the lion cubs.
“We knew it would be difficult, but with so many amazing animal warriors on the ground trying to save as many animals as possible, we wanted to do our part,” she wrote in her statement. “International Fund for Animal Welfare reached out to us about the cubs because our team is experienced in international big cat translocations, though none during such conflict.”
Thies described the cubs’ first few months of life as “harrowing,” saying they survived drone attacks and sporadic bombings in Kyiv before they were taken out of the city.
The release added that the permits of several of the lions indicated they were surrendered to animal rescue programs.
“Three (of the four) cubs were actually bred for the cub petting trade or the pet trade over there, so not a reputable facility,” Thies told CBS Minnesota. “They were surrendered in a duffle bag at just weeks old.”
The lion cubs still need to secure the proper permits and applications for their journey and clear customs before they can move into their U.S. home, according to The Wildcat Sanctuary’s release, which added that the international animal rescue community is hard at work to make this trip happen.
“I can’t believe that when [Ukrainians’] communities are crumbling when they don’t have power, they don’t have phones or anything, that they’re still dedicated to getting these animals to safety when they’re going through so much,” Thies shared in the release.
“Four lion cubs might seem really small in the scale of the war, but the amount of network that we’ve put together to help more animals and people that can support each other is amazing. For those four cubs, this is a whole new world and new life they’re going to have. And that means the world,” she concluded.
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The cub quartet’s new home is a 40-acre plot of land about 90 minutes from the Twin Cities. The little lions will join more than 100 rescued lions, tigers, and other big cats at the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is not open to the public, as the primary mission of the nonprofit is to give displaced animals a calm, comfortable home.
The Wildcat Sanctuary is raising funds to help prepare the area the cubs will live in once they arrive from overseas.