Lioness Vasylyna at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary

Lioness from Illegal Private Keeping Arrives at Species-Appropriate Home

FOUR PAWS brings lioness Vasylyna to its FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands


Vienna, 9 June 2023 – On 7 June, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS successfully transferred young lioness Vasylyna from her temporary home near Kyiv to its FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands as war still holds a firm grip on the Ukrainian capital.

The now nearly two-year-old big cat was first brought to BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr where she then was prepared for the rest of the journey, accompanied by a veterinarian throughout the near 2,000 km trip. Given the stressful circumstances, she is in good condition and will now receive the care she needs to recover and live a species-appropriate life.

Vasylyna was captured in August 2022, after roaming the streets of the war-torn village Vysoke in Kharkiv region in Ukraine, where she had previously escaped from a private keeping. Local rescue centre Wild Animal Rescue took her in until a permanent solution could be found. The legal situation in Ukraine forbids the private keeping of wild animals for “entertainment and leisure purposes”.

In the afternoon of 7 June, the transfer team together with Vasylyna arrived safe and sound at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary, a 2-hour-drive North-East of Amsterdam. As soon as the door of the transport crate was opened, the lioness walked out in a very calm way. As a first step, Vasylyna was released into a specially equipped enclosure with adjustable platforms and a centralized heating system. Here she will get the time to acclimatise throughout the next days, while at the same time having access to her new and more spacious outdoor enclosure.

“We are so happy to finally have brought Vasylyna to the Netherlands and into safety. The ongoing war and bureaucratic hurdles have caused several significant delays for this mission. Nevertheless we continued working tirelessly together with our partners from Wild Animal Rescue to bring her to FELIDA. When Vasylyna was found, she was underweight and in a poor health condition, a consequence of her previous keeping conditions. An extensive veterinary check will be planned in FELIDA to assess the health condition of the young lioness properly and to plan any individual treatments she needs to recover."

Magdalena Scherk-Trettin, who coordinates FOUR PAWS wild animal rescues

“Now, we are planning to offer Vasylyna an additional comfort and enrichment that we hope will contribute to her wellbeing. When she is ready, the team will introduce her to young lion Nikola, who lives in FELIDA since June 2022 and shares a similar history with Vasylyna: he also escaped from illegal private keeping, but in Montenegro. If everything goes well, the two brave partners in crime can grow up and live together. This is particularly important for social animals like lions.”

Vasylyna´s story

On 11 August 2022, a female lion cub was reported to roam the streets of the war-torn village Vysoke in Kharkiv region, Northeast of Ukraine. She had escaped from private keeping in a house. The respective authorities quickly found the owner and managed to convince him to give up the animal. The lioness was captured by the founder of Wild Animal Rescue and transferred to the wild animal rescue station in Chubynske near Kyiv as a temporary solution. The rescue centre was not able to provide a permanent place for the lioness. The impact of the war added a lot of pressure on the lioness´s welfare and so the organisations worked to find a quick solution for Vasylyna.

Dutch sanctuary for traumatised big cats 

FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands is one of multiple FOUR PAWS sanctuaries worldwide for rescued wild animals. It functions as a special care facility for physically and mentally traumatised big cats. The big cats that recover from the hardships of their past can be transferred to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Animals that need lifelong intensive and special care, stay at FELIDA.  Including Vasylyna, five rescued lions and one tiger are currently living at the sanctuary.

Lioness Vasylyna at Ukraine

VAsylyna had a difficult start in life

Find out more
Michael Kellner

Michael Kellner

PR International Officer

+43 (1) 89 50 20 20

+43 (0) 664 504 38 97

VIER PFOTEN International 
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1150 Vienna, Austria

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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. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS 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.