Big Cats in Crisis - The Big Cat Sanctuary

Big Cats in Crisis

Support The Big Cat Sanctuary on rescuing five lions from Ukraine

The Big Cat Sanctuary is on a mission to rescue five African lions from Ukraine to the UK who are currently living in critical conditions in war-torn Kyiv. The charity is pleased to work alongside IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) to evacuate the lions as quickly as possible and build them a new rescue centre at the Sanctuary.

The lions soon to be rescued include Rori, a male lion, and four lionesses, Amani and Lira, Vanda, and Yuna; all of whom have already had a traumatic life.

The lions are temporarily living in a shelter called Wild Animal Rescue, which is coordinated by Natalia Popova and a small dedicated team. Since the war, Popova’s services have been in increased demand, rescuing animals across Ukraine, from pet cats to big cats.

“It’s a scary time for everyone here in Ukraine. These big cats must have been so frightened and confused – some were born during the conflict and know no life other than the constant chaos of war, and some have been directly impacted by shelling. I am relieved these lions now have a better life ahead.” Natalia Popova at Wild Animal Rescue said.

(Natalia Povova at Wild Animal Rescue Centre)


“Ukraine is now no stranger to tragedy, and the stories of these big cats are no different. I am happy that at least for them, they are heading to a safer place. The Big Cat Sanctuary has offered permanent homes to the remaining lions that IFAW is supporting, including Yuna who we feared might not be homed due to her psychological issues,” says Natalia Gozak, Wildlife Rescue Field Officer (Ukraine) at IFAW.

It is time-critical to remove all five lions from Ukraine to a different facility before heading to the UK. The ongoing war has caused much distress to these cats, especially to young Yuna and Rori, who have unfortunately suffered from shellshock. 

(Rori, a male lion)


Yuna (approximately 3 years old) was discovered in a 4m² enclosure with bare flooring along with another male lion, named Atlas. The owner fled when the male lion became aggressive during the heavy shelling of Kyiv. Unfortunately, she was found to be bullied by Atlas, which traumatised her and Atlas was later moved to another facility in France.  

When she arrived at the Wild Animals Rescue Centre, Yuna was found to be suffering from severe concussion and shell shock, she also had extensive wounds and was malnourished due to a poor diet. Furthermore, the stress of living alongside the abuse of Atlas, compounded with the aerial bombardment in the warzone, Yuna has been experiencing symptoms of ataxia and vestibular syndrome which leaves her struggling to walk.  

After the strong progress made by the team at IFAW & WAR, there was a setback in her recovery when a large attack was launched nearby, leaving her traumatised once again. She is currently receiving treatment from the veterinary and support team at the rescue centre and has gradually been making progress. 

(Yuna, a lioness)

Rori (approximately 3 years old) was discovered in a private menagerie and was found alone. The Russian invasion caused the menagerie to close in January 2023 and the Wild Animals Rescue team transported him to their sanctuary. He, like Yuna, is thought to have suffered shellshock and was displaying similar coordination problems as a result of the trauma. Rori is also thought to be suffering from Arnold Chiari syndrome, which is treatable. 

After two weeks of intensive rehabilitation, Rori was able to stand again. Thanks to an improved diet, his coordination and weight are slowly improving. He currently lives alone and spends his time in both indoor and outdoor enclosures. The rescue centre is hopeful that he will make a full recovery in time. 

(Rori, a male lion)


On January 24th, 2024, the Wild Animal Rescue team then evacuated two female lionesses, named Amani and Lira (approximately 1-2 years old). They were born in approximately September 2022 and are sisters and they were found to be living in a 300m² enclosure. Both cubs appear fit and healthy and have not required any veterinary treatment thus far. 

(Amani and Lira, the two lioness sisters)


Another lioness, Vanda (approximately 1-2 years old), was found by a member of the Ukranian military in February 2024, in a small apartment building near the frontline. It is thought that she had been kept in the apartment for 5-6 months without any outdoor access or sun and had been raised on an inappropriate diet. With the help of the animal charity HAU in Ukraine, she was transported to the Wild Animals Rescue Centre, where she was found to be infested with parasites and was displaying signs of rickets. She is now under the care of the veterinary team and her diet has been much improved. 

(Vanda, the youngest lioness)


The dedicated team at The Big Cat Sanctuary are racing against time to raise vital funds to get the five lions out of Kyiv and safely to Kent, where they can live in peace. The Big Cat Sanctuary is now building a rescue centre to ensure the best care for the five lions in Kyiv. The charity is asking the public to support them in giving the five traumatised five lions a new chance at life. 

The donations raised for the project will go towards the transportation costs of moving the cats out of Ukraine and to their temporary holding facilities and ensuring the cats will receive the care they need. While they are living at their temporary facility, we will build a new lion rescue facility beside the current Project Lion enclosures. Once built, they will be welcomed into their forever homes.

(Natalia Povova working at Wild Animal Rescue Centre, where all five lions are temporarily residing)


While a seamless journey is not guaranteed, The Big Cat Sanctuary is dedicated to taking every possible precaution to ensure that the cats arrive safely. Cam Whitnall, Strategy and Development Manager states, “When the opportunity came up to rescue lions from Ukraine, we jumped at it. As a family, we’ve always wanted to play a key part in rescuing big cats. There’s a long way still to go, but we can’t wait to rescue them and give them a forever home at the Sanctuary.”  The Big Cat Sanctuary turns to the public for their generosity, as the expenses associated with building the new rescue facility, transporting the lions, and veterinary care are substantial.

The charity is eager to raise awareness and funds for the five traumatised lions that are in desperate need of a new home. The public can donate to this incredible cause and be a part of an important mission to remove these cats from a warzone to safety and refuge.

They can’t ask for your help… but The Big Cat Sanctuary can.

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