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Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine hope to call Minnesota’s Wildcat Sanctuary home


I’ve been waiting to share this news with you for quite some time.  A few months ago, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) asked if we could help 4 lion cubs in war-stricken Ukraine. 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.

IFAW reached out to us about the cubs because our team is experienced in international big cat translocations, though none during such conflict.  We know with every step forward, there may be three steps back.  But seeing the committed individuals on the ground providing rescue and animal care during shelling, sometimes with no electricity or running water, we were determined to help.

The cubs, all younger than four months, arrived safely at the Poznan Zoo in Poland after traveling for 36 hours out of war-torn Ukraine, where they will be cared for until onward transport permits are issued.

They have had a harrowing first few months of life, surviving the recent drone attacks and sporadic bombings in Kyiv. Remembering the first moments caring for Dash, I can imagine how scared the caretakers were for the cubs’ survival.

According to their permits, all of the cubs were surrendered to animal rescue organizations, VetCrew in Odesa and Wild Animal Rescue in Kyiv, after local officials started to enforce laws on the exotic pet trade in Ukraine.

“An estimated 200 lions live in private homes and as the war rages on, they face increasingly grim outcomes,” says Meredith Whitney, Wildlife Rescue Program Manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

We know there are more bumps in the road to come, but we committed to the long journey.  Both for the animals, but also for the humans who are dedicating themselves to helping each other and the animals during this very difficult time of war. Our hearts are with them all.

We were thrilled to be able to offer these cubs a beautiful, one acre habitat together and hope to welcome them home in the coming months.

TWS is proud to offer a forever home for these soon-to-be big cats and with your help today, we can rescue and care for more big cats in need!

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 waystation. 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 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

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

Photo Credit: Holly-Marie Cato



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