By Sharon Seltzer on Care2.com
A pride of 13 neglected lions from a zoo in Romania touched down at Robin
Hood Airport in South Yorkshire, England in what is being called – The
Biggest-Ever Cat Rescue. The lions that range in age from 15 months to 27 years
old will now make their way to their new home at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
The details of this story are little perplexing and left me wondering whether
the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the public weren’t slightly deceived about the
underlying reasons the zoo wanted the lions removed from their facility.
Is this a case of a zoo that was genuinely overwhelmed by the cost of taking
care of 18 big cats and needed help or is it a situation of “passing the buck”
and responsibilities to another organization to free up cash?
Pride of Yorkshire
The story about the lions, that have been named the Pride of Yorkshire, began
last summer when an animal charity in Romania asked the Wildlife Park in the UK
to help. They told the Wildlife Park that the state-run Oradea Zoo, where the
lions were living, had run out of money to care for the animals and was being
Yorkshire Wildlife Park was told the zoo could no longer afford to feed the
lions who were living in small rusty metal cages that measured 15ft. by 12ft.
The lions lived four to a cage on filthy concrete floors. They were emaciated,
covered in sores, weak and arthritic.
Zoo officials said they faced two options: locate a sanctuary that would
rescue the lions or have them shot.
John Minon, animal director at the Wildlife Park flew to Romania to see the
lions in August 2009. He told the Daily Mail, “I was truly shocked when I saw
them and knew we had to help. The lions were living in awful conditions.”
“The zookeepers care for the animals, but they don’t have any money or the
proper resources, and can’t even put tires up for them to play with,” continued
Minon and his team returned to the UK determined to save the lions. Over the
next six months they raised enough money to nurse the animals back to health and
provide them with a fully equipped shelter. And once they get to the Wildlife
Park they will have a nine-acre compound to run around. Donations for the
project were made primarily by individuals who wanted to help.
Cheryl Williams, director of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park said, “It’s been a
real team effort. Everyone at the park’s been working so hard to get the
enclosure ready and then there’s the 12,500 people who gave donations to make
this happen. I want to thank everyone who’s helped.”
“It’s really exciting,” Williams continued. “It will be the first time in
their lives they will be able to run at their natural speed.”
The Rescue Mission
The rescued lions traveled in a converted Boeing 747 that was donated by the
Yorkshire based airline Jet2. The airline stripped out the seats from the jet to
accommodate their special passengers.
Each lion was outfitted in a separate crate and a veterinarian traveled
onboard with them. The group landed in a remote part of the airport away from
the public – just in case one of the lions got a little anxious.
Pilot Warwick Swancott said he had no problems with his passengers. “It’s
certainly the most unusual group of passengers I’ve had on board, but they were
no trouble at all.” Because the pride was used to the freezing conditions in
Romania, the temperature in the airplane cabin was turned down to keep the calm.
Out of the original group of 18 lions, 13 will live at the Wildlife Park.
Three others have been returned to the wild in Africa and two will stay in
The Oradea Zoo was built 37 years ago while Romania was under the communist
regime. It is still home to 800 animals. And since it received aid for the
lions, the zoo has managed to put together enough money to start a renovation
project to modernize the facility.
In an interview with the Daily Mail Daiana Ghender, director of Oradea seemed
to blame the lions for the zoo’s financial troubles. She said, “If we had kept
the lions we would have spent all the money on their comfort and this
(renovation) would simply not have been possible.”
“The problem is the local authority has invested nothing in the zoo so there
is no money for animals to be well fed, even though they are forcing us to break
the law for the protection of animals.”
“As it is I am so very happy for the lions. I have worked so hard with my
team and with my friends who love animals, to make this happen.” “It was a
miracle we managed to save these animals.”
So is this a case of an overwhelmed zoo that is grateful its lions were saved or a facility that wanted to free up funds by passing off the burden of their big cats to another group?