SOUF, Jordan (AP) — Thirteen animals that had been trapped in harsh conditions in a zoo in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo were evacuated on Friday to a wildlife reserve in Jordan.
Five lions, two tigers, two bears, two hyenas and two dogs were being released into the Al-Ma'wa reserve near the town of Souf in northern Jordan.
The Austrian-based animal charity Four Paws had rescued the animals from the Magic World zoo in Aleppo with help from Turkey. The group said the zoo's owner, who fled Syria after the 2011 outbreak of civil war there, granted permission to take the animals.
Some of the animals are fine, while others suffer from blindness as well as heart, liver and kidney disease, said Dr. Amir Khalil, a vet for the charity.
One of the lions is due to give birth within two weeks, he said.
"It was a very difficult mission," said Khalil. "The team calls it 'mission impossible' because it's one of the most dangerous and volatile places on earth, military conflict, a lot of rebels, and it's not easy to take wild animals from such places."
Khalil said the animals spent the last three weeks in cages, during their transport from Syria to Turkey and then Jordan.
"We are very happy today to release these animals so they can touch the ground, touch the grass and I think this is a very fine feeling which we like," he said. "It's a message of hope for the people in Syria and around the world. It's peace."
Syria's conflict erupted in 2011, quickly transforming from a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad into a brutal civil war. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting. More than 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland and millions more were uprooted inside Syria.