A man in Ukraine has been living in a basement with a black panther and a jaguar for nearly two weeks.
Girikumar Patil is a doctor living in Severodonetsk, a town in eastern Ukraine that has seen heavy artillery fire over recent weeks.
He bought his two exotic pets from Kyiv zoo for $35,000 and refuses to leave them behind in the war-torn country, the BBC reported. Ukrainian law currently allows the private sale of exotic animals, provided the owners seek a permit and prove their living space meets several conditions.
The female pet panther is a six-month-old cub, and the jaguar, which is a rare leopard-jaguar hybrid is nearly two years old.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Patil has only been leaving the basement to buy food for his exotic animals, the U.K. broadcaster reported.
“My big cats have been spending nights in the basement with me. There has been a lot of bombing happening around us. The cats are scared. They are eating less. I can’t leave them,” Patil told the BBC.
The BBC said Patil, who is from Andhra Pradesh in India, has received calls from his parents asking him to come home, however, he refuses to leave the animals.
Patil posts updates on his life with his pet predators on a YouTube channel. In the most recent video, Patil said the bombing had stopped in the area, however Russia has now occupied the town. He said he has “no food, no banks, no nothing,” and has discussed with people outside the country how he cannot leave as it is too expensive. He said “life or death,” he now has to stay there with his cats.
There are many exotic big cats being kept as pets across Ukraine. Animal welfare charities had been looking to tackle the situation before the war broke out.
Director of disaster animal response Kelly Donithan at Humane Society International told Newsweek that animals are often the “faceless victims” of these tragedies.
“We have no doubts that the people trying to care for them are under great distress, and we are working with local groups on the ground in Ukraine who are fielding requests for help and seeking opportunities to support these animals during this time,” Donithan said.
There have been reports of big cats–that had been kept as pets–being left behind in Ukraine as their owners flee, Donithan said, due to the “extra layers of paperwork and complexity” to take the animals out the country.
“[This is] not to mention the inherent logistical challenges of transporting a large wild cat versus a small domesticated one,” she said.
Donithan said while many agencies and governments realize the importance of evacuating pets as well as humans, there are hundreds of animals still kept in apartments, cages and homes throughout Ukraine “whose fate remains unknown.”
“As we unfortunately still see across the world, wild animals are kept in captivity as exotic pets, for entertainment or private collections, and sadly Ukraine is no exception,” Donithan said. “Many of these animals find themselves stranded in a war zone, and we share the grave concern for their welfare.”