Nine zoo animals trapped without adequate food or water have been rescued near war-torn Aleppo, Syria, thanks to an international nonprofit organization and local residents.
Workers rescued three lions, two tigers, two Asian black bears and two hyenas, Four Paws International announced Monday. All the animals were in cages in an abandoned park called Aalim al-Sahar, or "Magic World." The park's owner, who fled to the United States five years ago, granted the group permission to take the animals, ABC News reported.
Most of the zookeepers had no choice but to flee the country during the Syrian civil war, leaving the animals behind. Shelling in the region damaged the zoo, and Four Paws veterinarian Amir Khalil told ABC that some animals have already died from injuries or starvation.
The surviving animals managed to stay alive for so long because locals provided them with what food they could. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel ― who is known as the "cat man of Aleppo" because he cares for domestic cats left behind during the war ― was among those who cared for the creatures. His cat sanctuary was hit by airstrikes at one point, but he has since worked to create a new haven for animals in the area.
The rescued animals are currently receiving veterinary care in Karacebey, Turkey, but will ultimately be relocated elsewhere, depending on their needs.
"FOUR PAWS has very good options with its own animal sanctuaries, including those in Jordan, South Africa, and the Netherlands," Khalil said in a statement. "We will individually decide which place is most suitable for each animal."
An unspecified number of animals remain at the zoo, and Four Paws says it's working to get them out.
"If everything goes well, they will reach the Syrian-Turkish border in the coming days," Khalil said. "We are not giving up on the remaining animals."