Lions Nikola and Vasylyna

Lions Nikola and Vasylyna

Found 2.000 kilometres apart 


The two young lions were found 2.000 kilometres apart from each other. One was found alone and hungry on the streets in Montenegro, the other was rescued from the war-torn streets in Ukraine. Both lions made their journey to FELIDA where they got a new chance at life and love.  

Lion Nikola

In January 2022, local authorities in Montenegro reached out to FOUR PAWS regarding an illegally held lion cub. The 5-month-old cub had managed to escape from private keeping and was found wandering the streets near Budva, on the Adriatic coast. After 10 days, the scared lion cub - now named Nikola - was finally rescued and taken to a temporary shelter. FOUR PAWS worked alongside the Environmental Protection Agency of Montenegro (EPA) and a local non-governmental organization called "Center for the Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro" (CZIP) to offer support and provide a temporary residence for the young lion. During the process of organizing the necessary paperwork, a team of FOUR PAWS specialists, including our Head of Animal & Facility Management Juno van Zon, made frequent visits to offer guidance, monitor the well-being of Nikola, provide enrichment, and carry out a small yet important surgical procedure. On the 20th of June 2022 all of the necessary paperwork was ready for Nikola to make the journey to FELIDA where he could grow into a confident and playful young lion. 

Lion cub Nikola in his temporary shelter in Montenegro

Lion cub Nikola in his temporary shelter in Montenegro

Lioness Vasylyna

Later that year in August 2022, FOUR PAWS received information about a lioness, named Vasylyna, that was wandering in the streets of a Ukrainian village. This lioness was previously owned by a private owner in the Kharkiv region, in the small village of Vysoke, and had managed to escape. Thanks to the hard work of Wild Animal Rescue near Kyiv, they were able to apprehend her and transfer the young lioness temporarily to their rescue center where a dedicated local team took care of her. However, due to the ongoing war in the country, it became crucial to relocate the young lioness to FELIDA as quickly as possible. After facing numerous challenges caused by the war and bureaucracy, Vasylyna was finally ready to leave the conflict behind and arrived at the sanctuary on the 7th of June in 2023, a year after the arrival of lion Nikola.

Lioness Vasylyna in her temporary enclosure at Wild Animal Rescue

The start of a new beginning

Both lions needed some time to get used to their new home when they arrived at our sanctuary. When lioness Vasylyna arrived at FELIDA in the summer of 2023, young lion Nikola had been with us for a year and already felt completely at home. The young lioness needed more time to rest and recover from her traumatic start in life. Gradually, she started to explore her surroundings and gained trust in our animal caretakers. After Vasylyna was settled, our wildlife veterinarians of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research came to FELIDA to do a general health check on the two young lions. They checked their kidneys, took some blood and urine samples and performed a general body check. In order to avoid offspring in the future, the vets also performed a minimally invasive procedure to sterilize lion Nikola. When all the results of showed that Nikola and Vasylyna are in perfect health, we decided it was time for the next step in their socialisation. 

The first spark!

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After the medical check showed that both animals are in perfect health, we decided to introduce them to each other from a distance. Their first eye contact via their inside enclosures was a big hit and they both showed positive interaction. After that, we moved Vasylyna to a larger enclosure next to Nikola. When the young lioness was used to her new surroundings, it was time for them to meet each other for the first time through the fence. Nikola and Vasylyna are young and were full of energy when they first met. They needed some time to get used to each other’s enthusiasm and social cues. But after a couple of days, they started to settle down and both lions were flourishing due to their contact.

Together at last!

After several months of close observations, rotating their enclosures, modified enrichment schedules, positive reinforcement training and supporting both animals with specially designed hormone (called oxytocin) to help them with their social skills, they were ready for a new phase in their relationship. Under the close supervision of the animal caretakers and a behavioural specialist, the moment had come to open the gate between the two young lions. A thrilling but very exciting moment for the FELIDA team and Nikola and Vasylyna, as both animals had never been in contact with a conspecific before. We are very proud of how the two animals responded to each other after the first contact. Both lions initially needed to get to know each other’s behaviour and social cues but we could see that their bond was growing by the day. 


The following weeks after their first encounter, Nikola and Vasylyna began to relax more and more in each other’s company. It is a delightful sight to see them together at last! We even made them a special nickname: Nikolyna!

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Nikolyna’s happily ever after

Their couple’s name “Nikolyna” is now a symbol of their growing love towards each other. It is as if both lions have never lived separately. They are a perfect match and even share the same hobbies: playing soccer and destroying enrichment. But there are also differences: While Vasylyna is a little bit more independent and likes to keep the overview by laying on high platforms. Nikola prefers to explore their environment for new sounds and smells. Vasylyna and Nikola are full of energy and in perfect health. That is why we started with the preparations of moving the young couple to South Africa in the beginning of 2024. They were getting bolder and are showing us more clearly every day: we are ready for LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary!

Lion Nikola released at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary

Lion Nikola is being released at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary

On Thursday 25th of April, it was time for lions Nikola and Vasylyna to travel to the beautiful LIONSROCK in South Africa. Kim, one of our animal caretakers will accompanied the lovely couple to help them feel comfortable during the whole trip.

Such a long transfer is anything but a piece of cake! A team of specialists and veterinarians  have been preparing the animals and logistics for months. Permits had to be acquired, the appropriate means of transport had to be arranged and in LIONSROCK all preparations had to be made for the new arrivals. In FELIDA our team has prepared the two young lions for the transfer in the best possible way. We did daily crate training with them. This is to familiarize the animals with the transport crates so they do not have to be put under anesthesia. The crate training went very well. Nikola needed a bit more time and guidance, but both lions successfully walked into their transport crates.

After a long journey the young couple and our animal caretaker Kim arrived safely at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary on the 26th of April. Nikola wasted no time and quickly stepped out of his crate. Vasylyna however needed more time but eventually joined Nikola in their new forever home. Where they now live happily ever after!

Lions Nikola and Vasylyna in their adaption enclosure at LIONSROCK

Facts about Nikola and Vasylyna

  • Both lions were rescued from private keeping
  • Lioness Vasylyna was saved from the war torn street of Ukraine
  • They both the same favourite enrichment: a ball
  • Lion Nikola was only 9 months old when he arrived at FELIDA
  • Living in LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary since April 2024
  • Their nickname is: Nikolyna

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