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Five lions saved from illegal inbreeding zoo in Bulgaria

Sydney, 28.11.2017 – International animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has launched an urgent rescue mission on 23rd November to save five lions kept in an illegal zoo in the city of Razgrad, Bulgaria. The big cats, who are a result of inbreeding practices, have been neglected over recent years resulting in poor welfare.

In addition to vital medical care, the veterinarians of the rescue team sterilised two male lions to stop further breeding of the siblings. One lion, whose condition was considered critical, was taken by FOUR PAWS to another zoo in the capital Sofia for further treatment. The long-term goal  is to move most of the former zoo lions – including two rescued cubs – to FOUR PAWS' sanctuaries.

The lions of the Razgrad zoo, aged between 3 months and 12 years, will soon have a life free from suffering. FOUR PAWS has saved the animals from particularly adverse conditions in an urgent rescue mission which took place over two days. Thus far, the big cats, who come from a three-generation-long inbred line, vegetated for years without any medical care in tiny enclosures.

"To see the animals like that was shocking. Never in their lifetime have these lions been examined by a veterinarian. This is fatal, especially in the light of the systematic inbreeding of the big cats. Here, the descendants of siblings have procreated uncontrolled due to lack of care," reports FOUR PAWS big cat expert Barbara van Genne.

"We have been monitoring this situation for some time, in discussion with government, and we’ve been putting pressure on authorities to close down the zoo or limit breeding since 2010," said Jeroen van Kernebeek, Country Director of FOUR PAWS Australia.

In the past, the bred lions were sold to other zoos, circuses and private persons. The introduction of a stricter legislation in Bulgaria in 2008, however, led to a reduced demand. Hence, the big cats remained in the Razgrad Zoo.


Medical checks and vasectomies

Since the city owns the zoo, FOUR PAWS convinced the mayor of Razgrad to intervene. The international team of veterinarians provided medical care to all lions and additionally sterilised two adult males. Due to the lack of physical exercise, the older lions already suffer from severe issues with their spines. It is likely that the younger ones will face the same health problems soon. A 3-year-old lion whose condition was particularly critical has already been brought to Sofia for comprehensive examinations. The veterinarians found sand in his bladder and diagnosed fibrosis in the kidneys. The upcoming results of a CT scan will provide more details about his health. As soon as he is fit enough, FOUR PAWS will transfer the lion to one of its own sanctuaries.

Search for a new home

A new home also awaits the two oldest lions of the Razgrad zoo as well as the two lion cubs, also from the inbred line. The youngest family members, who were born in September this year, were rescued from the zoo a few weeks earlier and will be brought to a FOUR PAWS sanctuary as soon as possible. Until the local authorities have decided if the zoo will be shut down or renovated, only one lion couple will remain in Razgrad. FOUR PAWS will closely monitor the wellbeing of the 6-year-old siblings as well as that of the other zoo residents.

Zoo without license

The Razgrad Zoo is located in north-eastern Bulgaria and opened in 1960. Although its license expired in 2014, the zoo remained open to visitors for free. The unprofessional breeding and sale of lions was used for financing the enterprise. Currently, over 25 mammals – including lions, deer, reindeer, lamas, foxes and hogs – as well as a couple dozens of birds live in the illegal zoo.

© Photos: ©Bogdan Baraghin | FOUR PAWS