Watch Lula and Simba’s journey to their new home. Video by PBS NewsHour
After one failed attempt to rescue a lion and bear from the Mosul zoo in Iraq, a team from Four Paws this week successfully brought Simba and Lula to their new home — an animal sanctuary in Jordan.
“We did it!!! WE SAVED LULA AND SIMBA!” Four Paws wrote Tuesday on its Facebook page.
The months’ long effort began in January when residents of the newly liberated eastern part of Mosul, which Islamic State fighters controlled for two years until Iraqi-led forces drove them out, sent Facebook messages to Four Paws asking them to help the two remaining animals at the zoo.
Islamic State militants had used the zoo grounds as a staging area for the battle, leaving mangled metal cages and the carcasses of animals who had starved to death.
When veterinary surgeon Amir Khalil and his team arrived in February, Simba and Lula were in poor shape and living in filthy, cramped cages. The Four Paws team treated the animals and left enough food and medicine with the local residents to tide them over until they could return and remove the animals a month later.
In their first attempt in March, the team tranquilized the lion and bear, and trucked them to the border of the city. They were detained at a checkpoint and ultimately sent back to the zoo.
During their second attempt in early April, they were waylaid again at the checkpoint. Amir Khalil, Four Paws’ team leader, said he was concerned about the security of his colleagues and of the animals, who were stuck in their small transport cages. “We were worried that the animals would die because of no water and no proper food. They were getting more tired every day.”
After nine days, the team finally cleared the border checkpoint and prepared the two animals for their final journey to Jordan. Khalil admitted he was nervous until they were safely on board the cargo plane.
Lula and Simba are now relaxing and being checked for infectious diseases at the New Hope Center for animal rehabilitation in Amman, Jordan. If all is well, in the next few weeks they will move to the expansive grounds of the Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife sanctuary, among the forested hills of northern Jordan, where they will spend the rest of their days.
The successful mission elicited cheers of “Well done!” on the group’s Facebook page.
Other commenters urged Four Paws to lend a hand with another desperate situation: The owners of the zoo in Aleppo, Syria, say they can no longer afford to feed the animals. Four Paws is interested in helping, Khalil said, but it will take time to research the complicated political situation in the conflict zone and develop a rescue plan, which would require the cooperation of the local authorities.
“We cannot give too many promises” at this point, he said, but the organization will do its best.