Ray Clarke

Doncaster, United Kingdom

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One of the Lions rescued from Romania, now living at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster England.
Shot Raw
Canon 5D Mk2
Sigma 150-500 OS @ 500mm hand held
Lion Rescue the Romanian lions arrive at Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Article published on 12 February 2010

A pride of lions has been rescued from a run down zoo, in Romania where they faced an uncertain future living in inadequate facilities and flown to the UK to start a new life at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster.

Believed to be the largest big cat rescue ever, Park Directors initiated a campaign through the charity Wildlife Heritage Foundation to raise £150,000 to save the lions in August after learning of their plight at Oradea Zoo. John Minion, Animal Director, visited the Park in July at the invitation of the zoo director Dhiana Ghender and was both shocked and moved by the experience and pledged to help the lions. They are such magnificent animals and despite the heat and the poor facilities, their spirit was still very evident. One lioness even came over to greet us. Some of them have health problems that veterinary care, good diet, exercise and appropriate housing will help greatly. There is a wide range of ages from 18 month old cubs to Johnny Senior, who is 27 years old a whole generation of lions. The staff at Oradea really love their animals and desperately want the best for them we really wanted to help them.

The appeal still has £25,000 to raise towards the rescue costs but the Park accelerated their plans to bring the lions to the UK on welfare grounds as the animals health was deteriorating due to the cold winter conditions in their inadequate housing at Oradea. The appeal was also helped by the generous offer of Philip Meeson, the owner of friendly low fare airline Jet2.com to fly them to the UK. There has also been outstanding support from Robin Hood Airport and Servis Air who are receiving the flight.

On Tuesday 9th Febuary, a team of vets and experts from Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Twycross Zoo, Shepreth Wild Animal Park, all members of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) flew out to Romania to initiate the rescue. This was a challenging and dangerous operation in difficult conditions, as up to five lions were kept in enclosures as small as 12 × 15. The team worked quickly in sub zero temperatures to tranquilise the individual lions and move them into travelling crates. This was an incredibly hard task for the vets to manage with the animals ranging in age from 15 months to 27 years. One of the youngest, Simba, walked into his crate without any need for tranquilising. Yorkshire Wildlife Parks Animal Director John Minion described the experience,` I was heartbroken to see these proud cats back in these conditions back August and from then on we were committed to helping them. Their condition and health is poor, but their spirit is still unbroken. They have never known anything different than these conditions. Today was a surreal experience for me, the moment had come when they were finally leaving the zoo. Now I will be happy when they are safely back in Yorkshire. The lions are going to need a lot of veterinary care and rehabilitation before they can fully enjoy the 9 acre reserve that is currently being landscaped for them at Yorkshire Wildlife Park and I am now looking forward to the day that they feel grass underneath their feet for the first time.

The lions faced a four hour journey by road to Budapest Airport and left Oradea Zoo under a police escort, complete with blue lights and sirens.

The Wildlife Heritage Foundation, the charity that is working with the Park on the project has received over 12,000 donations so far in cheques, online donations and direct donations totalling over £126,000 close to the target of £150,000. Many donations came from the readers of the News of the World. Cheryl Williams, Director of Yorkshire Wildlife Park thanked this newspaper and everyone who has made a donation or contacted them. This has been an amazing response. We are touched by the letters from those that have made donations, and each one no matter how small or how large has counted. We want to thank those who have helped so far and ask everyone to keep spreading the word. People can donate at www.lionrescue.co.uk

Cheryl Williams added This is a huge project for the Park. We desperately wanted to help the lions and it is amazing that we have had the support from so many people to make this happen. This rescue is very high profile for us, for Yorkshire and especially Doncaster and everyone who has supported the project should be proud that they have really made a difference.

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