Largest ever lion warzone rescue sees 11 big cats saved from war-torn Ukraine

Lions have been flown around the world to new 'havens' after being locked up in war-torn Ukraine.

Since Vladimir Putin's Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, efforts have been made to safely secure 11 lions from artillery and air strikes.

In what has been dubbed the "biggest ever warzone rescue", the big cats have now finally been flown around the world to greener pastures in the United States and South Africa.

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Thanks to a mission shared by two organisations, the lions took to the sky from Bucharest, Romania onboard a Boeing Dreamliner and made their first stop in Doha, Qatar.

From there, seven adult lions and two cubs will end up in Colorado's Wild Animal Sanctuary and the other two will head to South Africa.

Animal rescuers Lionel De Lange and his partner Reon Human are accompanying the magnificent Simba and Mir, all the way to the Simbonga Game Reserve and Sanctuary in South Africa's Eastern Cape.

The aptly named Lionel who runs Warriors of Wildlife, told Metro: "There’s never been a single rescue of this many lions from a warzone and we just feel so grateful that we have got to this point.

"We are extremely appreciative of all the governments involved in processing the permits for the lions to travel, it’s amazing to have got it all done in four months."

As there is no South African embassy in Romania, Lionel and Reon had to travel to complete all the necessary paperwork in neighbouring Hungary, where they were granted an emergency travel permit by the side of the road.

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After 30 hours wide awake, the pair made it to Bucharest and helped load a plane with the 11 lions.

Mr De Lang revealed: "The lions have a couple of scratches and bruises but they are travelling well. As with every single rescue we do, there’s an incredible feeling knowing they are going to a good place."

Not only is it a "good place" but Lionel went on to describe it as a "haven" compared to the cages they had become used to in Europe.

The pride of nine destined for a new life in Colorado had been living in the Ukrainian southern port city of Odessa when war struck and were subsequently driven to Romania on May 24 in a convoy.

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UK-based animal rescue organisation Breaking the Chains sent a representative to join 12 others as part of the mission to get the pride out of harm's way.

Around 600 miles later, they arrived in Targu Mures, Romania while the other lions Simba and Mia were transported to a zoo in Suceava, a north-eastern city in Romania.

British humanitarian volunteers Tim Locks and Jonathan Weaving were responsible for the initial phase of rescuing Simba from the invaded eastern Ukraine.

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