Watch: Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine play in Minnesota snow

Four lion cubs rescued from Ukraine are making themselves at home as they experience their first Minnesota winter. 

A male cub and three female cubs, between four and six months old, arrived at their forever home on Nov. 30 at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

The cubs were initially surrendered to Ukrainian animal rescue organizations — VetCrew in Odesa and Wild Animal Rescue in Kyiv, according to the sanctuary. Their arrival in Minnesota marked the final step in a long journey after spending the past month at the Poznan zoo in Poland. 

"We’re so grateful for the excellent care they received there, after their long 36-hour journey out of the bombing and drone attacks in Ukraine," the sanctuary said on its Facebook page. 


Taras, a four-month-old orphan lion cub who was rescued from Ukraine, plays in the snow at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota. (Photo provided by The Wildcat Sanctuary)

Playtime in the snow

This week, sanctuary staff accompanied the cubs - Taras, Stefania, Leysa, and Prada - as they adjusted to their new home. After getting used to their heated indoor space, they experienced their very first Minnesota snow on Tuesday.

"The cubs have settled in very well. They’re fearless and love to explore every inch of their outdoor habitat," said Wildcat Sanctuary founder Tammy Thies.

Though Minneapolis and Kyiv have had similar weather over the last month in terms of temperature and snowfall rates, the lion cubs were raised in breeding facilities and were destined for the pet market, according to an IFAW press release, meaning their recent adventure could have been their first experience with snow. 

"It is so rewarding watching them play and chase each other after their arduous journey and surviving bombings and drone attacks in Ukraine," said Thies. 


Pictured are three lion clubs recently rescued from Ukraine, Taras, Lesya, and Stefania, as they explore their new home at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota. (Photo provided by The Wildcat Sanctuary)

Refugee crisis leads to pet care crisis 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven at least 14.3 million people from their homes since February, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees registering 7.8 million refugees have fled the country, with another 6.5 million internally displaced.

As the IFAW notes on their site, many of those feeling took their family pets with them. The organization's response has included supporting Ukrainian veterinarians financially, setting up an animal clinic near one of the busiest border crossings in Poland, and ongoing efforts to distribute pet food and vaccinations. 

Meanwhile, zoos and sanctuaries have been trying to help Ukrainian animals, which can often come at a hefty price. The Wildcat Sanctuary said each of the four young cubs costs an estimated $10,000 per year, and they have an average life span of 20 years.