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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Two lions saved from wars in Syria and Iraq head to South Africa refuge

Most animals in those zoos had died during the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq

In this February 24, 2018 photo, Saeed, front, and Simba who were rescued from Syria and Iraq by the animal rights group Four Paws, are prepared for their departure from the Al Mawa Animal Sanctuary near Souf, in northern Jordan. Raad Adayleh / AP
In this February 24, 2018 photo, Saeed, front, and Simba who were rescued from Syria and Iraq by the animal rights group Four Paws, are prepared for their departure from the Al Mawa Animal Sanctuary near Souf, in northern Jordan. Raad Adayleh / AP

Two African lions rescued from war zones in Iraq and Syria are heading to a permanent home in South Africa, after resting in Jordan where they recuperated from physical and psychological trauma.

The lions were coaxed with mouthfuls of meat into metal crates on Sunday before being loaded into a cargo truck taking them to Jordan's international airport.

The animal rights group Four Paws International rescued Saeed and Simba in daring war zone operations in 2017 from Magic World outside in Syria's Aleppo and the Mosul zoo in Iraq.

Most animals in those zoos had died during the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The two lions arrived emaciated, dehydrated and psychologically scarred at the Al Mawa Animal Sanctuary in Jordan last year.

They received medical care including vasectomies and dental work. They gained weight on a steady diet — with lamb meat saved for special treats.

Two-year-old Saeed now approaches people for head scratches and plays with his lead trainer Saif Rwashdeh.

"He'll run up into the crate even if there's no meat, then run out, then run back," he said.

Rwashdeh is travelling with the lions to Johannesburg, South Africa via Doha, Qatar. He'll be staying with them for two weeks to help the pair adjust to the South African sanctuary of Lions Rock, home to wild game and over 90 big cats.

"He's a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, he loves the interaction," said Diana Bernas, head animal keeper at Al Mawa, as she scratched Saeed, his eyes closed and smug, leaned into her fingers. "He's a perfect lion."

The young lions are at an age ripe for socialisation and need interaction with larger groups of lions, Ms Bernas said.

"It is bittersweet but we knew he was only going to be here temporarily so we are happy he's going to the African sun."