Two tigers rescued from the hell of the Syrian war after being left in a derelict zoo surrounded by dead animals have been reunited for the first time.
Sayeeda and her brother Sultan were snatched to safety from what remained of Aleppo zoo in August last year.
Behind them, in shattered cages and compounds, 140 creatures lay dead – killed by bombs, bullets, starvation or stress, including the young tigers’ parents.
After the war began in 2011 and fighting intensified in Aleppo, the zoo’s caretakers were forced to abandon its inhabitants.
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Sayeeda and her brother Sultan were rescued from what remained of Aleppo zoo and reunited for the first time the Netherlands
After their traumatic time in war-torn Syria the reunited siblings splashed each other with water at their new home in the Netherlands
The pair were malnourished and traumatised after being abandoned in the derelict zoo in the war-torn region, close to the frontline
Reunited: The siblings played together for the first time since being separated by the Syrian war
Getting the pair out of Syria to safety 14 months ago was a tough mission as the frontline in the civil war was just a sniper’s bullet away from the abandoned Magic World of Animals zoo.
Sayeeda and Sultan were part of a small menagerie ferried across the border into Turkey, forced to cross three separately held rebel areas in one of the most daring animal rescues ever mounted.
The shell-shocked tigers were joined by three lions, two Asian brown bears and two hyenas.
Eventually, they were flown to rescue facilities in Jordan, and two months after their liberation, the tigers arrived at Four Paws’ Felida Big Cat centre in the Netherlands.
The three-year-olds were traumatised and malnourished and at one point Sultan went into cardiac arrest when he was given anaesthesia for a health check-up.
So far they’ve made the long, delicate road to recovery in separate compounds in the Netherlands.
The tigers were left in the hell of the war and surrounded by 140 dead animals, including their parents
The owner of the Magic World of Animals zoo begged an ambulance driver to help and charities and Turkish authorities were mobilised to rescue the tragic beasts
The mission to get the tigers and other surviving animals to safety from rebel held areas was one of the most daring animal rescues ever mounted
When he was being rescued Sultan went into cardiac arrest when he was given anaesthesia for a health check-up
But now they’re together again – chasing and teasing each other, splashing in a water pool, and chewing on sweet pumpkins and scented hay.
The pair can be seen playing happily together after being re-united for the first time.
Each day they will be given more time to socialise as part of their return to physical and mental health.
The aim is to eventually release them into a much larger compound in the wilds of South Africa.
Simone Schuls of the international animal charity, Four Paws, which organised the rescue from Syria, said getting the sibling reunited was a vital part of their rehabilitation.
He said: ‘It’s incredible to see them like this. In the wild, tigers are often solitary creatures, but getting Sayeeda and Sultan together again is a crucial part of their rehabilitation.
‘They learn from each other and gain confidence every day. Their balance is improving and so is their general awareness.
Sultan was taken from Aleppo zoo in northern Syria to the Al-Ma’wa wildlife reserve near Souf, Jordan, on August 14, 2017, where he relaxes in a water pool
Sayeeda and Sultan are now in the Netherlands receiving rehabilitation before hopefully being transferred to a much larger facility in South Africa
They are now playing together, chasing and teasing each other, splashing in water pools, and chewing on pumpkins and scented hay
Sayeeda and Sultan at the Four-Paws rescue centre in Jordan after being rescued from Aleppo zoo
‘We can already see they are more relaxed, and that’s important. Sultan is so much stronger than Sayeeda and he could seriously injure her. Instead he just tolerates her teasing him.
‘It’s great to watch them inspire each other to a better quality of life. But they still tire very easily and after a play session they often both fall into a contented sleep. So we’re building things up gradually.’
The international Four Paws animal charity admitted it dealt with some ‘very bad men’ to negotiate the safe passage of the last nine animals out of the remains of Aleppo zoo to their new home in neighbouring Jordan.
Austrian charity Four Paws, with the help of the Turkish government and a local security company, crossed into Syria from Turkey in August last year to rescue the animals from the abandoned zoo Aalim al-Sahar in Aleppo.
Four Paws animal keeper, Juno Van Zon, was part of the rescue mission and trained the tigers to climb into their transport cages without the need for sedation.
He said: ‘Tigers like Sayeeda and Sultan look strong and mighty, but sometimes after trauma, they have sensitive problems just like humans. It’s very emotional for me to see them making their way back to full health.’