Lions Nikola and Vasylyna at LIONSROCK in South Africa

FOUR PAWS Transfers Rescued Lion Couple to Their Forever Home in South Africa

Nikola and Vasylyna were found roaming the streets after escaping private captivity


Bethlehem, 29 April 2024 – On April 26, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS successfully transferred the two young lions Nikola and Vasylyna from its FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands to their forever home at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Both lions were found roaming the streets as cubs in 2022 – Nikola in Montenegro and Vasylyna in Ukraine. They escaped from private keeping. As a first step, FOUR PAWS transferred them to its Dutch big cat sanctuary for specialised care. Once they recovered and expressed their individual personalities, attempts were made to socialise them. Socialisation among lions can be a challenge but Nikola and Vasylyna – lovingly nicknamed ‘Nikolyna’ – are proof that the hard work paid off: The duo is now inseparable. At LIONSROCK, they will be able to continue living in a species-appropriate environment and explore the vast habitat as companions.

“We are happy to see that Nikola and Vasylyna have arrived at their forever home at LIONSROCK after their long journey. Stepping into their enclosures, the lions wasted no time in venturing out to investigate their new surroundings. Nikola and Vasylyna have had a turbulent start in life, now they have the chance to thrive in a species-appropriate habitat that allows them to express their natural behaviours. They can enjoy their companionship under the African sun in even vaster surroundings than before,”

Patricia Tiplea, Head of Wild Animal Rescue & Advocacy at FOUR PAWS

For the past few months, the experts at FELIDA have patiently prepared Nikola and Vasylyna for their journey to ensure their comfort and safety.  Through regular crate training, they familiarised the lions with the routines of the transport, minimising unnecessary stress. Nikola and Vasylyna participated in this training without any issues. With FOUR PAWS experts supervising their wellbeing at all times, both the flight to Johannesburg and the transport to LIONSROCK went smoothly.

‘Nikolyna’ – Two abandoned lions find companionship

Nikola and Vasylyna share a difficult and similar past of escaping private keeping in Montenegro and Ukraine. Nikola was born in 2021 and was just a cub when he was found wandering around the village of Budva in Montenegro in February 2022. No information was available about his owner. He was lost, malnourished, dehydrated and in dire need of veterinary assistance. Vasylyna, who was also born in 2021, was found roaming the streets in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine in August 2022. She was unable to climb or run due to underdeveloped muscles. With the support of local organisations and authorities, FOUR PAWS took both lions into its expert care at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary. FELIDA specialises in providing care for physically and mentally traumatised big cats. Once the lions recover from their injuries, they have the opportunity to move to other FOUR PAWS sanctuaries, such as LIONSROCK. Those requiring lifelong intensive care remain at the Dutch sanctuary.

Commercial exploitation of big cats in Europe  

Lions, tigers, leopards, and other big cats – all are victims of a highly unregulated, ruthless commercial trade in Europe. Exploited for entertainment and other commercial purposes like circuses, private keeping and tourist attractions, many suffer a lifetime in captivity and cruel keeping conditions that hinder them in living out their natural behaviour crucial for their wellbeing. FOUR PAWS is currently campaigning to ensure that the EU Tiger Guidance is implemented in all EU Member States and that captive tigers are better protected. This could have a knock-on effect on other species like lions.

"Nikola and Vasylyna are two lucky lions who got a second chance at a better life, unlike thousands of other big cats still suffering in private captivity. Their stories serve as a stark reminder that big cats are not pets. The improper private keeping and commercialisation of big cats causes immense suffering for animals worldwide. Malnutrition, illnesses, and persistent stress shape the lives of these captive sentient beings, eventually leading to premature and pointless deaths. FOUR PAWS remains dedicated to advocating for the proper protection and species-appropriate care of big cats under direct human influence. Accredited facilities and sanctuaries must be the only places entrusted with the care of wild animals to finally end this needless suffering," says Josef Pfabigan, CEO and President of FOUR PAWS.

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary: South African sanctuary for rescued big cats

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary is one of the 13 wild animal sanctuaries and cooperation projects established by FOUR PAWS worldwide. It is currently home to over 100 rescued big cats, including lions, tigers and leopards. They were rescued from private keeping, circuses, zoos or conflict zones all across the globe. The sanctuary encompasses a total area of 1,250 hectares. The land is also inhabited by other typical South African species that live freely like zebras and antelopes, as well as a wide variety of bird species that have found refuge on the property. 

FOUR PAWS has recently launched a reporting tool to report any concerning activities regarding the commercial exploitation of big cats online. The reporting tool can be accessed here.

Illegally kept tigers

Wild Animals in Private Keeping

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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. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, 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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