Heroic effort to evacuate lions and tigers from Ukraine to Poland during Putin’s invasion

NEWS AND COMMENT: The Save Wild sanctuary east of Kyiv decided to evacuate after Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine nine days ago. They decided to take six lions, four tigers, two caracals and an African wild dog to the border with Poland. It turned out to be a heroic and traumatic journey both for the brave people who succeeded and the wild animals in their charge.

Lion and tiger cubs - part of the group of zoo animals evacuated from sanctuary near Kyiv to Poland
Lion and tiger cubs – part of the group of zoo animals evacuated from sanctuary near Kyiv to Poland. Photo: Poznan Zoo.
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They set off from Kyiv last Saturday. About 24 hours after starting, they had to stop because they spotted a Russian armoured convoy. The person in charge of the rescue operation, Natalia Popova, telephoned the director of the wildlife park to say that she was surrounded by Russian tanks and that her driver had run away.

Popova was travelling in another vehicle. She drove to the abandoned lorry with the animals in the back and turned off the lights and hid underneath the cab to avoid detection by the tanks which were 80 m away.

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She refused to leave the animals. At that point the wildlife sanctuary lost contact with her. Fortunately, local Ukrainian partisans knew her. These were women carrying machine guns and they came to her aid. They secured safe passage for the vehicles through the battle lines.

The animals were watered and fed and transferred to a horse trailer donated and driven by a local farmer whose name is Wiktor. They recommenced their journey on Tuesday and changed the route a number of times to avoid Russian troops and bombing.

They encountered a bombing raid when they got to Zhytomyr. They decided to head south to the border and arrived at the border crossing on Wednesday night where they were held up for eight hours in a queue with other refugees.

They were eventually admitted into Poland and Wiktor immediately returned to his farm without pausing.

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The animals were in cages for days without proper care and exercise. Natalia Popova said that they were very stressed. A spokeswoman for Poznan Zoo said:

“We can see how much stress they have been through. We are particularly worried about the older tiger who has withdrawn into herself. Animals like this are not made for war zones.”

The plan now is to take them to Spain and Belgium where they will be offered shelter after they have had some rest and feed. The mission was successful although it was almost doomed to fail.

The temperatures throughout were near freezing and these wild captive animals have joined the 1.2 million refugees currently on the move out of Ukraine and into neighbouring safe haven countries.

For me, it is nice to read about animals being saved. It’s good to see a focus on animals. There will be many more refugees both people and domestic animals. It is expected that there will be around 7 million refugees before this is over. I expect even more than that.

Putin's invasion
Putin’s invasion. Image: MikeB.

Putin’s maniacal behaviour will achieve nothing but destruction and hatred. I suspect he will lose the support citizens living in Russia if there is any left because their living standards will drop dramatically due to biting sanctions. He will never ‘win’ Ukraine because once he has destroyed the buildings and infrastructure, he will be left with a desert occupied by people who hate him and who will never be cowered into submission.

Update Sunday 5th March. The Facebook post below appears to say that the animals were rejected at the border by Polish officials as the paperwork failed to comply with EU standards. At this time, I have no idea if this was overcome. I’ll do more work on this today.

then this (translation: THANK YOU! Lions vet check in progress They will soon leave for Poznan.)

which is encouraging but it is not clear if all the animals got into Poland. I have asked them for clarification.

Update: the matter is clarified. In response to my FB message they state:

The Poznan zoo has confirmed that they animals made it to the zoo
The Poznan zoo has confirmed that they animals made it to the zoo

My thanks to The Times for reporting this story.

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