The last two surviving animals of Mosul zoo in war-torn Iraq have been rescued and flown out of the country. Simba the lion and Lula the bear were found abandoned in their cages in horrendous conditions at the privately-owned zoo in February.
They were the only surviving animals, with other inhabitants killed or dying of starvation.
A team of vets from international animal charity Four Paws flew the two animals out to Jordan from the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil on Monday (10 April) to receive emergency care.
Although alive when found, both animals were said to have looked "miserable" and suffering several diseases caused by malnutrition and lack of veterinary care.
In addition to dental problems, the bear had developed pneumonia and the lion was afflicted with joint problems.
"I'm a vet – I have to look after these animals," Amir Khalil, a 52-year-old Egyptian-Austrian vet who headed the Four Paws mission, told AFP.
"They are refugees. It's our duty to take them to a sanctuary."
The Muntazah al-Nour zoo, in the eastern half of Mosul, has been caught in the middle of ferocious fighting as the Iraqi army attempts to drive out Isis from the city, thus taking away their last major urban stronghold in the country.
More than 300,000 people have fled the city since the Iraqi offensive began in October 2016.
The zoo was nearly destroyed and most of its animals including a lioness, monkeys and rabbits died of starvation or were killed.
When Four Paws reached the zoo, nobody had entered the cages in weeks and no other animals apart from the female bear and the male lion had survived.
The team of vets, led by Khalil, returned in late March to rescue the animals, taking two weeks to sort out the paperwork in a chaotic post-Isis administration.
The group put the animals to sleep, removed them from their cages on stretchers and loaded them aboard a truck. An 18-year-old leaning on two wooden crutches looked on as the truck prepared to leave.
"I wouldn't mind receiving some care myself," he told AFP. The young Iraqi lost his leg in an explosion in November. "I need to leave this place, I need a prosthetic leg," he said.
After multiple attempts to transport the animals out of the city failed due to blocked checkpoints, the two animals were forced to remain by the roadside in their temporary cages for nine days.
It was during this time the lion developed a respiratory problem.
The two animals were finally flown out of the country on 10 April after the team received the necessary permits. "This is the beginning of a new life for the animals," Khalil said. "From now on, they won't have to be part of this war."