In November 2022, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) asked if we could help Prada and 3 other 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.
Prada and 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, Prada and the other 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.
We knew there would be 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.
Prada, a female lion cub, was only 6 months old when she arrived at the sanctuary in the winter of 2022. After a 7,000-mile journey from war torn Ukraine, she finally found her forever home.
Prada had been abandoned in Kyiv as war was being waged by Russia against Ukraine. She was part of the exotic pet trade, destined to be sold for profit after being separated from her mother at such a young age.
Dr. Andrew Kushnir, a U.S. vet volunteering there on the ground in Ukraine, contacted IFAW for assistance with rescuing Prada and three other abandoned cubs. IFAW then reached out to us to see if we could provide a lifelong home for all of them.
With the help of IFAW and many animal rescuers in Ukraine, Taras, Stefania, and Lesya were transported from Odesa to Kyiv where they met up with Prada.
With Russia’s increased bombing and drone attacks on Kyiv, it was important to get the cubs to safety fast. They made a 36-hour journey across the border to the Poznan Zoo in Poland. There, Dr. Kushnir and zoo staff cared for the cubs until transportation and permits came through for their trip to the U.S.
Thanksgiving Day 2022, founder Tammy Thies flew to Poland to help expedite travel arrangements. Finally, on the last day of November, the cubs cleared customs in Chicago for the last leg of their journey to Minnesota.
We’re thrilled we were able to offer these cubs a beautiful, one acre habitat in the Pride Prairie section of our sanctuary, where they can grow up as a pride together for the rest of their days.
Prada and the other cubs had no idea how many people worked so hard to make this international rescue a reality. All they knew was love at each step along the way.
From the moment she and her siblings stepped out of their crates, the fun began! Their arrival, safe at sanctuary, was covered by media all over the world.
We worried how Prada would be since she’d spent her previous months with a tiny leopard cub. While Prada was coming to us, the leopard would be going to a facility in France.
Prada has a very calm and patient personality, perhaps because she’d grown up with a very rambunctious leopard cub. She had playdates in Poland with the three other lion cubs. Once they all arrived at our sanctuary, it was clear, she wanted to be with them and vice versa.
She’s very patient with the younger cubs and sets boundaries with them gently. The very first night here, they were all successfully merged and seeing them all cuddling together was about the best sight you can imagine!
To see Prada outside in the snow playing, with Lesya, Stefania, and Taras, is one of the most heartwarming moments. And we know it’s just one of so many to come for these Ukraine lions.
We’re thrilled we were able to offer these four lion cubs a beautiful, one acre habitat in the Pride Prairie section of our sanctuary, where they can grow up as a pride together for the rest of their days.