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 Big Cat Sanctuary 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 FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary 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 Big Cat Sanctuary 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 Felida Big Cat Sanctuary 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 Big Cat Sanctuary permanently. After the arrival of Lenci, Bobby and Zhaku, two tigers and six lions currently live at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.za