Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s majestic pride of lions has celebrated a landmark fifth anniversary since it was saved from a squalid eastern European zoo.
The lions’ rescue was marked with a special ‘Lion Day’ at the Doncaster attraction on Bank Holiday Monday.
Before finding a new home at the wildlife park, the neglected pride was kept in filthy concrete pens in a Romanian zoo, fed on a meagre diet of scraps.
The YWP therefore co-ordinated a £150,000 mercy mission, which was described as the ‘biggest ever cat rescue’.
The campaign was a huge success and the lions were brought to Branton in 2010. They now have a happy, healthy life roaming a purpose-built, nine-acre home with a lake, waterfall, rocks and grassland.
The 13 lions, including two cubs aged just eight months old, have been a favourite with visitors to the YWP ever since.
John Minion, chief executive of the park. was the first to see the lions in Oradea Zoo in Romania.
He said: “They were in such poor condition, covered in sores and kept in tiny pens.
“It was heart-breaking. It is hard to believe it was five years ago this week that they were released into Lion Country for the first time.
“But it was such a memorable event that means so much to us and the public.
“These are magnificent animals and they probably wouldn’t be alive today if we hadn’t rescued them. It’s thanks to the kindness of the public that we were able to raise enough money to bring them here.
“It is a very special date for the lions and all of us here because it reminds us how important our welfare and conservation work is.
“The pride is happy and healthy and that is a wonderful achievement, something worth celebrating.”
Sadly, the eldest lion, Johnny Senior, died in June 2012 after his health declined. Cezar, Johnny Junior and the oldest female, Frieda, died in 2014.
But the nine remaining lions can still be seen enjoying themselves around the central lake and waterfall of Lion Country, the largest non drive-through lion reserve in the country.
n Half term fun at the YWP continues with South America Day today and Giraffe Day tomorrow. On Friday, the YWP will celebrate Polar Bear Day with furry friends Pixel and Victor.