Inside Out catches up on big cat rescue

Television viewers will next week get the chance to catch up on the progress of the 13 lions involved in Europe’s biggest-ever cat rescue earlier this year. BBC Inside Out (Yorkshire and Lincolnshire) on BBC One at 7.30pm on Monday 25 October, returns to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster to investigate how the lions have fared since February when they were moved from miserable conditions in a Romanian zoo.

Presenting the programme is the BBC’s One Show nature expert, Mike Dilger, who said: “Eight months ago, this small piece of Yorkshire was the epicentre for one of the most amazing animal rescue stories of modern times. Thirteen lions were flown half way across Europe to a new home just a few miles from the centre of Doncaster. It was a highly dangerous mercy mission. Now I’m back to pick up where I left off with the new Pride of Yorkshire.”

The BBC Inside Out documentary team first reported on the rescue in February when the 13 animals – who were kept in cramped and antiquated conditions in Oradea Zoo in Western Romania – were re-housed in a nine-acre enclosure at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. A public appeal raised £150,000 for their removal from Romania.

The animals had spent all their lives in cages with concrete floors that measured four metres by three metres. They had never set foot on grass or soil – and during their years of confinement were suffering from a lack of stimulation.

Mike Dilger said: “The plight of these proud animals touched a real chord with the British public. The lions had spent all their lives in miserable conditions, crammed into cages just a few metres square, in an old communist-era zoo in Oradea in Western Romania.

“The pictures shocked people back home – and a mission to rescue 13 of the Romanian lions was launched.”

During a tense 24 hours, the animals were tranquilised and put into crates and moved from Oradea to Budapest in Hungary. They were then flown from the Hungarian capital and taken to Doncaster.

The animals spent the first few months of their new existence in quarantine but were eventually released into their enclosure in May – where cameras capture them taking their first footsteps on a surface other than concrete.

The BBC team also documents the extensive veterinary treatment undertaken by the pride over the last few months – including the time one young lion is placed inside a mobile MRI scanner to determine why he is walking so badly, and another occasion when the eldest lion undergoes a visit from a vet for dentistry work.

Finally, the team return to Oradea to see if conditions have changed for the remaining animals and discover that plans have been drawn up for a new zoo at Oradea at a cost of almost £3.5m.

BBC Inside Out (Yorkshire and Lincolnshire) can be seen on BBC One at 7.30pm on Monday 25 October, or on the BBC iplayer the following day.

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