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Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine war arrive at Minnesota sanctuary

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Four lion cubs who were evacuated to Poland amid the war in Ukraine have arrived at an animal sanctuary in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of The Wildcat Sanctuary
Four lion cubs who were evacuated to Poland amid the war in Ukraine have arrived at an animal sanctuary in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of The Wildcat Sanctuary

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Four lion cubs evacuated to Poland amid the war in Ukraine have arrived at an animal sanctuary in Minnesota.

The cubs include three females -- a 6-month-old cub named Prada and two 4-month-old cubs named Stafania and Lesya, as well as another 4-month-old male cub named Taras. They arrived at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota on Wednesday, where they will live as a pride.

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The little lions were born at breeding facilities in Ukraine and had been surrendered to two local animal rescue organizations after law enforcement started to enforce laws on the exotic pet trade in the country amid the war.

Three of the lion cubs were under the care of veterinarian Andrew Kushnir, an expert on big cat species in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, who reached out to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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"During several drone attacks and airstrikes, he prepared their specialized milk formula every three hours, cleaned up their enclosure and made sure they had a warm place to sleep," the IFAW said in a statement.

"On nights when the power went out, he even used his arms and legs to warm their milk bottles."

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Kushnir traveled with the three cubs to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, where he met another lion cub and a black leopard cub. The five cubs and Kushnir then traveled to Poland, where he continued to care for them, the IFAW said.

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The four lion cubs were then transported to the United States on an eight-hour flight to Chicago before arriving in Minnesota. Further details about the black leopard cub were not immediately known.

After their plane landed in Chicago and cleared customs around noon on Tuesday, they were met by staff from The Wildcat Sanctuary and offloaded into an indoor quarantine enclosure to rest, The Wildcat Sanctuary said in a statement. They will begin exploring their new habitat in a few days.

"After their long journey, all four cubs were merged and were seen cuddling up together for a much-deserved rest. This new lion pride will grow up as a family, living wild at heart at the sanctuary for the remainder of their lives," said Tammy Thies, the founder of the organization.

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"The cubs have been enjoying their indoor bedrooms and will have access to their large, free-roaming habitat in the next couple of days. There, they'll enjoy room to roam, caves, trees, platforms, and lots and lots of toys!"

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In April, a zoo in the besieged city of Kharkiv evacuated five large lions, a cub and a jaguar after Russian shelling destroyed enclosures and critical infrastructure.

Officials at the Kharkiv Zoo in September said that a chimpanzee that escaped the facility was returned after it wandered nearby streets.

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