Written by Samantha Lade, DonateToday
Published: Wednesday, 14th March 2018

Starvation, diseases and bomb explosions: Lion cubs rescued from abandoned zoos in crisis areas of Middle East make life-changing journey to South Africa

Starvation, diseases and bomb explosions: Lion cubs rescued from abandoned zoos in crisis areas of Middle East make life-changing journey to South Africa

Simba and Saeed were born and held within some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. But after brave teams from Four Paws stepped in to rescue the cubs following two perilous missions in Iraq and Syria, the lion cubs have since made an incredible journey back home.

Simba's Story

At the Montazah Al-Morour Zoo in eastern Mosul, most of the forty zoo residents are now dead.

In the midst of the ongoing war in Iraq, starvation and bomb attacks are just two of the devastating reasons behind this huge loss of animal lives.

When the Four Paws rescue team arrived at zoo during February 2017, lion cub Simba was just one of two survivors at the scene.

Believe to be around four years old, Simba was born in the zoo into the heart of a war-zone, and had managed to escape from his damaged enclosure.

But following, weeks of drawn out negotiations in Iraq, both Simba and Lula the bear were eventually relocated to a safe and secure wildlife centre in Jordan by international animal welfare charity Four Paws.

Saeed's Story

Just months later in July of 2017, the charity were to make another huge rescue just across the border in war-torn Syria.

Two-year-old cub Saeed had also been born in captivity, and was rescued along with twelve other injured and traumatised animals from a neglected zoo at the Magic World amusement park near Aleppo.

Saeed was lucky number 13.

Supported by international security companies and the Turkish Ministry of Forestry and Water affairs, the thirteen animals were first evacuated by Four Paws to Turkey, before then being relocated to the safe wildlife centre in Jordan.

A Life of Suffering

Between starvation, diseases and bomb explosions, both Simba and Saeed have endured a lot of suffering during their short lives.

But thankfully, the successful rescue missions by Four Paws were able to save two beautiful, wild animals.

After arriving in Jordan from their respect crisis areas in the Middle East last year, the fragile pair then underwent many months of intensive veterinary care and rehabilitation at the Jordanian wildlife rescue centre of ‘Al-Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife’.

But now, nursed back to their full health, Simba and Saeed are well under way on what will be their final journey: a return to their homeland.

Simba and Saeed travelled for 33 hours to reach their ancestral home of South Africa

A Sanctuary of Peace and Refuge

Experts and charity workers at Four Paws were unanimous in their decision that the big cats would thrive once back in the beautiful setting of South Africa, where they originate from.

‘Simba and Saeed had a difficult start to life,’ explains Four Paws Big Cat Expert Barbara van Genne. ‘But thanks to the tireless efforts of th­e animal caretakers and vets involved, the health of the two lions has improved enormously.’

­‘In South Africa, we have the chance to bring Simba and Saeed together with other rescued lions. As young big cats feel comfortable in prides, we will immediately begin our socialisation project for both lions.’

Last month, after a 33-hour transfer via passenger planes and trucks, the pair arrived at Lionsrock – a 1,250-hectare big cat sanctuary run by Four Paws just outside of Johannesburg.

Here, Simba and Saeed will finally find peace and refuge after years of suffering and distress – all thanks to the charity's hard work.

The pair's new home of Lionsrock spans 1,250 hectares of land

For the past ten years, Four Paws have been working to rescue big cats in zoos, in captivity and in the entertainment industry across the world, to create better living conditions for these wonderful animals.

‘Approximately 100 rescued big cats live here at Lionsrock,’ says Fiona Miles, Country Director of Four Paws South Africa. 

‘With 78 other lions, we are confident Simba and Saeed will find themselves a pride and a happy ending to their chaotic upbringing.’