Rescued lions from Albanian horror zoo arrive at new home


FOUR PAWS brings Lenci, Zhaku and Bobby to Dutch Big Cat Centre FELIDA

10.5.2019 – After a long wait, the three male lions from Albania finally have the happy ending they so deserve: The international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS successfully transferred them from their temporary home at Tirana Zoo to the Netherlands. There, they reached their new home at the FOUR PAWS Big Cat Centre FELIDA on 9 May. FOUR PAWS previously rescued Lenci, Bobby and Zhaku in October 2018 during a spectacular rescue mission from the notorious Safari Park Zoo in Fier, Albania. After years of suffering in inappropriate conditions, the lions can now finally begin a dignified and better life.

On 7 May, the lions started their journey from Tirana Zoo to Nijeberkoop in the Netherlands, where Big Cat Centre FELIDA is located. The FOUR PAWS team travelled 52 hours and almost 3,000 kilometres to bring the lions to their new home. Lenci, Zhaku and Bobby are doing well after their long journey and can now relax. Curiously but cautiously, they explored the new surroundings. Veterinarian Marc Gölkel from the Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) was part of the rescue team in October 2018 and has again accompanied the transfer to ensure the well-being of the animals. Prior to their departure, Gölkel gave the go-ahead for the journey after a short medical examination. 

“Overall, the state of health of all three has improved since their rescue. Lenci’s inflamed eye heals well. The tests have shown that Bobby has kidney problems, and Zhaku has skin inflammation. In addition, all three lions need dental treatment. We will take care of that as soon as they have adjusted at FELIDA” 

Marc Gölkel, Veterinarian from the Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)


Tireless efforts for the departure of the lions

The transfer was preceded by a call for protest by FOUR PAWS against the responsible Albanian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, which blocked the departure of the lions. The reason given was an ongoing court case initiated by the former owner of the animals for damage to property. FOUR PAWS did not accept this reason and fought tirelessly for the departure of the lions. “It was high time that the Ministry kept its agreement with us. We are relieved that we were finally able to bring the lions to our special care centre. We would like to thank Tirana Zoo for its help, but in the long run the zoo would not be a suitable home for the animals. After years of torture they now finally get the specialised care they desperately need from our experienced team. In FELIDA they can enjoy the sun and grass in their new enclosure,” says Ioana Dungler, Director of the Wild Animals Department at FOUR PAWS, and responsible for rescuing the animals from Safari Park Zoo.

Spectacular rescue from “Europe’s worst zoo”

Since December 2015, FOUR PAWS had investigated the Safari Park Zoo in Fier several times, but it was not until October 2018 that intervention was possible. Photos from inside the zoo showed the terrible conditions the animals had to live in. International media started labelling Safari Park Zoo as “Europe’s worst zoo” and “Zoo from Hell”. After an international outcry, the Albanian government decided to confiscate all wildlife from the zoo with FOUR PAWS supporting them. The rescue of the animals proved to be extremely demanding, but the experienced team was able to free eleven animals from the small, dirty concrete enclosures and bring them to safety. Today all the rescued animals have found new homes at different sanctuaries.

A home for traumatised big cats

The FOUR PAWS Big Cat Centre FELIDA in the Netherlands functions as a special care centre for physically and mentally traumatised big cats. The big cats that recover from the hardships of their past can then be transferred to the FOUR PAWS Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa. Others might need lifelong special care and stay at FELIDA permanently. After the arrival of Lenci, Bobby and Zhaku, two tigers and six lions currently live at FELIDA.

© Bogdan Baraghin | FOUR PAWS  

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Issued on behalf of: Fiona Miles – FOUR PAWS South Africa: Country Director

FOUR PAWS is an international animal welfare organisation with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Founded by Heli Dungler in 1988, the organisation strives to help animals in need with sustainable campaigns and projects. The work is based on substantiated research and scientific expertise as well as intensive national and international lobbying. FOUR PAWS focuses on animals that are directly under human influence: stray dogs and stray cats, farm animals, companion animals and wild animals including bears, big cats and orangutans kept in inappropriate conditions. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Kosovo, Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA and Vietnam, FOUR PAWS aims to help animals in need directly and quickly.