SPRINGFIELD, Colo. (KDVR) – The war in Ukraine has been dispensing tragic reports since its early days back in February, but the latest chapter in one of the more uplifting stories to arise from the conflict is now being written here in Colorado.

That story details what some have called the largest-ever warzone rescue in the world’s history, during which 11 Ukrainian lions weathered the long and arduous journey to escape the Bio Park Zoo in Odessa, a southern port city in the war-torn country.

Now, nine of those fleeing felines have arrived here in Colorado at The Wild Animal Refuge, and the proverbial tales they brought along with their literal tails are beyond inspiring for animal conservationists the world over.

Biggest ever warzone rescue

“International rescue operations are almost always more complex in nature, but then you are factoring in a variety of foreign governments and timelines for permitting, some of those with active warzones,” Executive Director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary Pat Craig said.

According to The Wild Animal Sanctuary, the 11 lions who were in the southern Ukrainian zoo were taken on a more than 600-mile journey to escape the dangerous situation brought on by invading Russian forces.

On May 24, after crossing both Ukraine and Moldova, the lions and the group transporting them arrived at the Targu Mures Zoo in Romania. The big cats stayed there for several months while their caretakers obtained the proper emergency travel permits so that they could be legally transported to their new homes.

When they gained approval to do so, seven adult lions and two cubs were taken to The Wild Animal Refuge in Springfield, which is a sister facility to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg. They arrived at the facility on Sept. 29.

“We are thankful we could get all the lions out in time and save them. That’s what matters. They will live out the rest of their lives in pristine, large, natural habitats,” Craig said.

“They are already putting on weight and muscle and they’re gaining confidence,” Austin Hill, with the Wild Animal Sanctuary, said.

“They have nothing but fresh earth and grass and open sky, an expansive huge and multi-acre habitat, literally the refuge is almost 10,000 acres. USDA-certified food and world-class health care, all they have to worry about is just being lions from here on out,” Hill said.

For those of you who noticed nine is two fewer than 11, worry not, for the remaining two lions were relocated to their new home at the Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

If you’d like to donate to the sanctuary to help take care of the lions, you can do so on their site.

Agencies that assisted in this feline relocation effort

  • Greater Good
  • The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries
  • Tigers in America
  • Warriors of Wildlife
  • The Simbonga Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa

You won’t be able to visit these felines in the Springfield facility as they recover from their life-changing journey, but you can visit the largest nonprofit carnivore sanctuary in the world near Keenesburg where you can see the more than 650 rescued animals that call it home.