Lions and tigers rescued from Ukraine avoid Russian tanks to find sanctuary in Poland

The animals were loaded onto lorries to make the journey across the border

A 17 year-old female tiger is seen in a cage at the border crossing in Korczowa, Poland. AFP
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Six lions and six tigers came face to face with Russian tanks during a two-day trip to a Polish zoo after being rescued from a sanctuary near Kyiv.

The lorries containing the animals skirted battle front lines, a zoo spokesman said.

The big cats, along with two caracals and a wild dog, travelled about 1,000 kilometres to the Polish border while avoiding the Zhytomyr region, which Russian forces have bombarded, said Poznan zoo spokeswoman Malgorzata Chodyla.

“They had to go a long way around to avoid Zhytomyr and other bombardment zones. They had to turn back many times, because all the roads were blown up, full of holes, impossible to pass with such cargo, which is why it took so long,” she said. “But here they are, and we just can't believe it.”

Ms Chodyla said all the animals, including tiger cubs, survived the long journey and arrived safely on Thursday. However, the zoo was worried about a 17-year-old female tiger who looked very tired.

At one point, the lorry had to stop overnight opposite Russian tanks.

The driver rested under his vehicle while the owner of the Ukrainian shelter fed the animals because the transport crew did not know how to, the spokeswoman said.

At the border, the animals were transferred to a Polish lorry while the Ukrainian driver returned home to his children.

For now, the animals will be cared for at the Poznan zoo. After the animals have had some rest in Poznan, they may travel further west.

A Belgian sanctuary declared it would take in the six lions and the African wild dog, Ms Chodyla said.

Zoo director Ewa Zgrabczynska, who helped arrange the rescue, said she is already in contact with several western organisations that want to take in the animals.

She also launched a fund-raising drive as the city of Poznan, which runs the zoo, lacks a budget to take care of the animals.

Updated: March 04, 2022, 8:30 AM