Rescued lions from war-torn zoos in Iraq and Syria arrive at their final home in South Africa

Traumatised and emaciated, they barely made it through the war. But now lions Saeed and Simba are safe.


Overnight, international animal protection organisation FOUR PAWS completed the final transfer of two lions rescued from war-ravaged zoos in Syria and Iraq in 2017. 

FOUR PAWS rescued the big cats from neglected zoos in Mosul and near Aleppo. After months of rehabilitation in Jordan at the wildlife rescue centre 'Al Ma'wa for Nature and Wildlife', Simba and Saeed were finally ready to be relocated to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, where they will live for the rest of their lives. 

The lions embarked on a 33-hour transfer by passenger plane and truck from their temporary home in Jordan to the 12-square-kilometre FOUR PAWS sanctuary near Johannesburg, where they have now been released into their new outdoor enclosures. Soon, they will be introduced to other rescued lions and begin socialisation.

At the wildlife rescue centre in Jordan, a team of experts rehabilitated the traumatised animals and prepared them for their final trip to South Africa. 

“Lion Simba was rescued from an abandoned zoo in Mosul, Iraq, by a FOUR PAWS team in April 2017. Traumatised and emaciated, he barely made it through the war. Then in July 2017, our team went on another challenging mission and rescued thirteen animals from 'Magic World', a war-torn zoo near Aleppo in Syria. Lion Saeed was one of these animals, found starving and suffering in a cage. We brought both lions to Jordan where they were nursed back to health and recovered from their traumatic experiences. We are so proud of how well they have regained their health and personalities."

Jeroen van Kernebeek, FOUR PAWS Australia Country Director

Simba: one of two survivors
Estimated four-year-old lion Simba was born in the Montazah Al-Morour Zoo in the eastern part of Mosul during the ongoing war in Iraq. The majority of the 40 zoo residents died of starvation or were killed by bomb attacks. When the FOUR PAWS rescue team first stepped in in February 2017, they found only two animals alive in the zoo: bear Lula and lion Simba. After weeks of difficult negotiations in Iraq, FOUR PAWS successfully evacuated both wild animals in April 2017 and brought them to Jordan for rehabilitation. 

Saeed: lucky number 13
Due to his young age, It is believed that two-year-old lion Saeed was born in captivity during the war in Syria. In July 2017, FOUR PAWS rescued Saeed along with twelve other animals from the neglected zoo at the Magic World amusement park near Aleppo. International security companies and the Turkish Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs supported the evacuation. After a two-week stay in Turkey, the Turkish government approved the departure of the 13 injured and traumatised animals to Jordan in August 2017.

From Jordan to South Africa
The Jordanian wildlife rescue centre 'Al Ma'wa for Nature and Wildlife', a joint project of FOUR PAWS and the Princess Alia Foundation, provides a species-appropriate home for most of the rescued zoo animals from crisis areas of the Middle East. 

Due to their good health and youth, FOUR PAWS decided to transfer Simba and Saeed to its big cat sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa where they will have the opportunity to be socialised with other lions. Currently, approximately 100 rescued big cats live in the 12-square-kilometre sanctuary near Johannesburg.

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FOUR PAWS press contact

Elise Burgess

Elise Burgess

Head of Communications

M: 0423 873 382

FOUR PAWS Australia
GPO Box 2845 

Main Phone: 1800 454 228

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.

Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.

With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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