The last two surviving animals – a male lion and a female bear – at Mosul’s privately owned Motazah Al-Morour zoo have been successfully flown out of war-torn Iraq to Jordan, The Guardian reported on Tuesday. The Four Paws International, an animal welfare group, carried out the operation after finding the frail animals abandoned in their cages in February.

“We’re in the plane with the animals, we’re leaving now... I’m a vet – I have to look after these animals,” said Amir Khalil, 52, who headed the rescue mission. “They are refugees. It’s our duty to take them to a sanctuary.”

The paperwork had held up the process even though Khalil had started formalities by March-end. Simba, the lion, developed a respiratory problem while waiting to be taken to safety. “This is the beginning of a new life for the animals,” Khalil told the newspaper as the aircraft took off. “From now on, they won’t have to be part of this war.”

The Four Paws group had rescued 16 animals caught from the Gaza Strip in August 2016.

Pro-government forces launched an offensive to retake the city in October. The fight to take back. The coalition forces said the assault was launched to free over 6,50,000 civilians trapped in the city. The city, which the Islamic State group has held control of since 2014, is its last major stronghold in the country.