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'Experience of a lifetime': Animal rescue founder recounts extracting 9 lions from Ukrainian zoo


It was a rescue mission few thought would happen when war broke out in Ukraine.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” said Jesse Adams, founder of RainCoast Dog Rescue Society.

A daring assignment connected Adams, a lover of all animals, with some big cats in need of help.

Adams is no stranger to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. His Vancouver Island-based animal rescue organization has saved dogs and other animals in the war-torn country before—but never an apex predator.

“Obviously they are a very large, powerful predator,” said Adams.

In June 2022, Adams returned to Ukraine for the second time.

“I went to go and work with an amazing organization called Breaking the Chains,” said Adams. Breaking the Chains is an ex-military group out of the U.K. with a common goal of helping animals.

After a few days working with a team, a unique opportunity presented itself.

“I heard a whisper that maybe we might be helping out with some sort of extraction of lions,” said Adams.

Nine lions in fact, from a zoo in Odessa. That city had become increasingly targeted by Russian missile attacks.

All of the animals in the zoo needed to be extracted, and the lions at that time became the priority.

“It’s one thing to wake up to a giraffe in the street, it’s another thing to wake up to nine lions in the street,” said Adams.

The team didn’t hesitate, quickly getting to work sedating the massive cats. After wellness checks, those nine sedated lions had to be placed in cages, then loaded onto four vehicles to begin their journey out of the combat zone.

“You can’t keep them sedated for that long, it’s dangerous,” said Adams. “That trip took days.” The group first travelled out of Ukraine and into Moldova.

“People were very interested,” said Adams. He says every time the group stopped for gas, the convoy almost became a travelling sideshow.

“How could you not set off a community of interest when you drive through town with nine lions,” said Adams.

After days of travel, the group finally made it to their final destination in Romania. There, the pride was unloaded and held in a safe location.

“It feels amazing,” said Adams.

A little more than a year and half later, those lions are now living out their lives in two separate nature sanctuaries, one in South Africa and another in the United States.

“That’s where all animals deserve to end up, back in the wild, and if they can’t end up back in the wild, it’s something that exactly mimics it because that’s what they deserve, to run free,” said Adams. Top Stories

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