Eleven lions have been saved from Ukraine in what has been described as the biggest single rescue of lions from a warzone. The big cats last night started their journeys to their new lives at sanctuaries in the US and South Africa.
The lions had spent months in Romania after being taken by road to temporary shelters following complex rescue operations to pluck them out of Ukraine.
The Boeing Dreamliner carrying the lions took off from Bucharest Airport on Tuesday and will stop in Doha before the animals split into two groups.
A pride of seven adults and two cubs will then go to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
Another two lions are being taken to the Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Lionel De Lange, director of Warriors of Wildlife, and his friend Reon Human are travelling with the big cats.
Mr De Lange told Metro: “The lions will be flown to Doha and from there the cats will be split into two consignments, with one going to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in the United States and Mir and Simba going to my sanctuary in South Africa, Simbonga.
“There’s never been a single rescue of this many lions from a warzone and we just feel so grateful that we have got to this point.
“We are extremely appreciative of all the governments involved in processing the permits for the lions to travel, it’s amazing to have got it all done in four months.
“We are super tired but we are super happy to have got to this point.
“The lions are in the cargo hold below us and we’ll be travelling with them.
“As with every single rescue we do, there’s an incredible feeling knowing they are going to a good place.”
The pride of nine lions had been at risk of Russian attacks in the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa after Vladimir Putin launches his invasion in February.
They left their former home in Ukraine on May 24 and were driven in a convoy to Romania.
The other group of two lions, Simba and Mir, were rescued from Ukraine in March and had been in temporary holding facilities since then.