Simba and Saeed, two male lions rescued from terrible conditions in zoos in war-torn Iraq and Syria, started their new lives at a sprawling sanctuary in South Africa on Tuesday.
The fortunate felines from zoos in Mosul and Aleppo underwent a 33-hour journey from the Middle East to their “forever home” in Africa, wildlife NGO Four Paws, which facilitated the move, told dpa on Tuesday.
The big cats seemed settled and comfortable almost as soon as they touched African soil, with the other lions at the sanctuary roaring a greeting in unison, said Fiona Miles, Four Paws South Africa director.
“We were a bit concerned – how will they react, how will they respond?” she said of Simba and Saeed.
But there was no cause for worry.
“As soon as the crate was opened, they ran out and sniffed the air…. and the other lions roared,” she said. “It was really wonderful to see, they’re settling in very well.”
“With 78 other lions (at the new sanctuary) we are confident Simba and Saeed will find themselves a pride and a happy ending to their chaotic upbringing,” she said.
Four-year-old Simba was born in the zoo in Mosul – an Iraqi city that has been particularly hard-hit by the war. Almost all of the 40 other animals in the zoo died from starvation or were killed by bomb attacks, according to Four Paws. Only Simba and bear Lula were found alive.
Saeed, two, was rescued with 12 surviving animals from a zoo in Aleppo in Syria, which has been devastated by a multi-sided conflict since 2011.
“Simba and Saeed had a difficult start to life, but thanks to the tireless efforts of the animal caretakers and vets involved, the health of the two lions has improved enormously. They are now ready to begin a new chapter at our big cat sanctuary LIONSROCK,” Four Paws’ Barbara van Genne said in a statement.
With the bombardment of Syria’s Eastern Ghouta killing hundreds over the past 10 days, some might question the expense of saving the lives of two lions – but not Fiona Miles.
While the human suffering is obviously the main story, she said, it doesn’t mean other creatures living in warzones should be forgotten.
“Who should speak for them?” she said.(dpa/NAN)