Members of rescue response team Four Paws International have saved the only two remaining survivors from an abandoned zoo (Montazah al-Morour) in Mosul, Iraq. Following ISIS occupation of Mosul, the facility had suffered devastation amidst fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic state militants. As a result, all animals died with the exception of one lion (Simba) and one bear (Lula).

Simba and Lula were discovered in February, emaciated and covered in dirt and excrement. Neighbors had been offering food and water to the animals until the war-stricken land environment halted all efforts.

Amir Khalil, an Egyptian vet who headed the Four Paws mission, reported that the two had been suffering from diseases stemming from malnutrition, including pneumonia and joint conditions. Amir’s team flew to Mosul on March 28 and persevered through five security checkpoints and numerous obstacles in order to remove the animals from their deteriorating habitat. The veterinary team finally succeeded in bringing Simba and Lula to a secure checkpoint, and provided nourishment until they were cleared to fly out of Kurdish territory and receive proper veterinary care.

Their first attempt to leave was stymied due to the truck carrying the animals being detained. Nine days later, Simba and Lula were finally flown out of Iraq and transferred to Jordan, where they will undergo rehabilitation programs to help them regain strength.

Despite being close to death, Simba and Lula were more fortunate than the other zoo residents, including a lioness, monkeys, and rabbits. Yavor Gechev from Four Paws reported that this had been the group’s most complicated mission.

The battle for control of Western Mosul is ongoing, but there is some relief. As Dr. Khalil stated, “This is the beginning of a new life for the animals. From now on, they won’t have to be part of this war.”