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Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine arrive at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota


12/12/2022 Update:

Lunch with the lions: Watch the cubs LIVE on YouTube Monday, Wednesday and Friday 12-2 p.m. CST.

12/1/2022 Update: 

Tammy Thies shared, “After their long journey, all four cubs were merged and were seen cuddling up together for a much-deserved rest. This new lion pride will grow up as a family, living wild at heart at the sanctuary for the remainder of their lives.”

“The cubs have been enjoying their indoor bedrooms and will have access to their large, free-roaming habitat in the next couple of days. There, they’ll enjoy room to roam, caves, trees, platforms, and lots and lots of toys!”

“This isn’t the first international rescue we’ve done. The Wildcat Sanctuary has rescued big cats from as far away as Buenos Aires, as well as Canada.”

Photo: The Wildcat Sanctuary

11/24/2022 – Thanksgiving

While most were enjoying a Thanksgiving feast, I was flying to Poland. I needed to begin finalizing plans to bring the 4 rescued Ukraine lion cubs back home to the sanctuary.  The list of details for an international rescue is mind boggling! And everything needs to be in order before we can confirm a trip home.

They’ve been through so much already, growing up around bombs exploding, being transported time and time again to get them safe. Now, it’s time to finally bring them home.

Taking in 4 abandoned young lion cubs is a huge financial investment. It costs approximately $10,000/year per cub to provide the care and habitats they need to thrive. With an expected lifespan of 20+ years, that’s an astounding $800,000 lifetime expense!

Having sponsor parents for Taras, Lesya, Stefania, or Prada would be an amazing way you could help. By becoming a sponsor parent today you’ll be a very important part of their rescue.

You can be more than a part of just their journey home.  As a sponsor parent, you can be with them for the lifelong journey.

For $50/month, we’ll send along photos and updates whenever you ask.

Sponsor any of the lion cubs HERE

or donate any amount NOW to help welcome them home!

11/30/22 – Press Release

Contact: Tammy Thies at [email protected]  320-245-6871

Four young lion cubs, rescued from Ukraine, were flown from Poland to a sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota for lifelong care.

The lion cubs – Taras (male, four months), Stefania (female, four months), Lesya (female, four months) and Prada (female, six months) – have spent the last three weeks at Poland’s Poznan Zoo, receiving excellent care and recovering from their 36-hour journey out of Ukraine.

“These cubs have endured more in their short lives than any animal should,” said Meredith Whitney Wildlife Rescue Program Manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“Sadly these cubs were captive bred and destined for the illegal pet market at just a few weeks old. Luckily, they were surrendered to rescues in Ukraine before finding their way to their forever home at The Wildcat Sanctuary in the United States,” said Tammy Thies, Founder and Executive Director of The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS).

At the time of the cubs’ rescue, zoos and rescue centers across Europe had accepted many lions from Ukraine already and reported their facilities were at capacity.

Two animal rescue organizations, The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS) and IFAW, partnered to ensure the cubs would have a safe place to live out the rest of their days together. The Wildcat Sanctuary has a specially designed habitat for lions. The cubs will live together as a pride in an environment specific to their needs.

“We’ve cared for 300 big cats at TWS and are acutely aware of the trauma many big cats around the world experience,” said Tammy Thies, Founder and Executive Director of TWS. “From the moment IFAW reached out to request our partnership, we knew these cubs had found their forever home at our sanctuary. They have a custom, open space to explore and indoor comfy rooms where they can rest their tired bodies after their long journey.”

Their 9-hour flight landed in Chicago on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, around noon. Once the cubs cleared customs, they were met by care staff from The Wildcat Sanctuary to transport the cubs from the airport to their sanctuary in Minnesota.

The cubs were offloaded into an indoor quarantine enclosure at the sanctuary and provided a warm space to rest after their flight. They will get to explore their large outdoor habitat in the next few days. Their arrival marks the final step in an arduous journey. These lion cubs have traveled almost 7,000 miles to finally find peace, after surviving bombings and drone attacks in Ukraine.

While these lion cubs now have a secure future, many big cats – in captivity and in the wild – face new and increasing threats to their survival, including the exotic pet trade.

“We hope to continue working with IFAW and members of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance to save more big cats from war-stricken Ukraine,” said Thies.

The public can be part of this historic international rescue and the cubs’ lifelong journey:

Sponsor any of the lion cubs HERE

or donate any amount NOW to help welcome them home!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why were the 3 cubs kept separate from the 4th cub in Poland?

Prada, who is 2 months older, was rescued in Kyiv. The 3 cubs were rescued in Odesa. Once they all traveled to the Poznan Zoo in Poland, they were able to slowly get to know each other. They were merged once they arrived to our sanctuary to be able to grow up as a pride.

Why can’t these lions be set free in Africa?

Of course, that would be our preference, too. But these cubs had all been separated from their mother at birth to be raised by humans and sold on the black market. They had already imprinted on humans and saw them as a source of food and comfort. Sadly, they would have little success on their own in the wild. Here at the sanctuary, they will be able to live wild at heart.

Why didn’t the cubs stay in Poland or in Europe?

The Poznan Zoo was merely a wonderful waystation to get them out of Ukraine until they could arrive in the USA. They’ve been taking in as many animals from Ukraine as they could. By placing the animals at sanctuaries, they’re able to rescue more in need. At the time of the cubs’ rescue, zoos and rescue centers across Europe had accepted many lions from Ukraine already and reported their facilities were at capacity.

Where are their mothers?

The 3 cubs had been dropped off at a train station, in a zipped up duffle bag. They, and Prada, were part of the black market trade, selling wild animals as “pets” for profit. Unfortunately, we have no information on where they were bred or where their mothers are.

About TWS (The Wildcat Sanctuary) – The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS) is the only accredited, non-profit sanctuary in the Midwest. TWS provides a natural sanctuary to wild cats in need and inspires change to end the captive wildlife crisis. Combining natural and spacious habitats with a life free of exhibition, TWS allows all residents to live wild at heart. As a true sanctuary, we do not buy, breed, sell or exhibit animals. The Wildcat Sanctuary is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. More information can be found at

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) – IFAW is a global non-profit helping animal and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at

Featured Photo Credit: Poznan Zoo

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