Modern-day Ark of zoo animals escapes from Ukraine into Poland after six-day odyssey of fear and danger
An Ark of exotic animals from a rescue shelter in Kyiv is finally in the safe hands of Poznań Zoo after a small convoy made a six-day odyssey across the war-stricken country.
After surviving close encounters with Russian tanks and coming under rocket attack, the vulnerable animals and their Ukrainian carers had to endure an eight-hour wait at the border before handing over the precious cargo to zoo staff, who were waiting on the Polish side.
Though exhausted and hungry, the animals, which include six lions, two adult tigers and two young ones, as well as an African wild dog and a capuchin all made it to Poland alive and well.
Delighted zoo staff posted on Facebook: “We did it! They are all alive! The crossing took eight hours in the cold, the people and animals are exhausted. We are concerned about an old tigress, a tiger cub and one lion.”
The animals had been living in a rescue sanctuary in Kyiv near an airport which has been the scene of intense fighting. Staff had to scramble to save as many of the animals as they could.
Natalia Popova, who runs the sanctuary, was forced to select those animals from among the 80 under her care that had the best chance of surviving the journey.
Some animals have food reserves for months. The biggest concern were the large predators.
Tigers eat on average several kilos of meat a day. Popova had a supply for 10 days.
Poznań Zoo director Ewa Zgrabczyńska told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper: “Getting out of a country under attack is not easy, as hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine have already found out. With animals, it is even more difficult.”
She added: “She knew that if the animals did not die from bombs, they would starve to death.”
The transport set off on Saturday, but came under fire immediately and had to turn back. On Sunday it set off again, but had to stop when Russian tanks appeared on the road.
Zgrabczńska said: “[Natalia] called me, saying in a whisper that she was sitting in the cabin and could see the tanks. I begged her to leave the animals and save her life. She refused.”
The ark set off again on Tuesday and headed towards the border, changing route several times to avoid bombs and enemy troops.
They headed towards Zhytomyr, but bombs were falling there too, so they went south, towards Vinnitsa.
They could not move at night because of the curfew. On Wednesday morning they started again. In the afternoon they reached Tarnopol and headed towards Lviv.
While this was happening, Zgrabczyńska was organising the rescue effort from the Polish side contacting state agencies to obtain permits for the animals to enter Poland.
The animals are now on their way to the zoo in Poznań. After resting, some will head to sanctuaries in Spain and Belgium where they have been offered places.