Five lions saved from illegal inbreeding in Bulgarian Zoo

FOUR PAWS provides urgent medical care and relocation


International animal protection organisation FOUR PAWS launched an urgent rescue mission on November 23 to save five lions kept in an illegal zoo in the city of Razgrad, Bulgaria. The big cats, the result of inbreeding, have been neglected over recent years leading to poor health.

In addition to vital medical care, the rescue team veterinarians sterilised two male lions to stop the siblings from breeding further. 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 at the Razgrad zoo, aged between 3 months and 12 years, will soon have a life free of suffering. In an urgent two-day rescue mission, FOUR PAWS has saved the animals from particularly adverse conditions. Until then, the big cats that stem from a three-generation inbred line languished for years in tiny enclosures without any medical care.

"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 neglect."

Barbara van Genne, FOUR PAWS 

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

In the past, lions bred in Razgrad were sold to other zoos, circuses and private persons. The introduction of stricter legislation in Bulgaria in 2008, however, led to 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 suffered from severe issues with their spines. It is likely that the younger animals will soon face the same health problems. A three-year-old lion whose condition was particularly critical has already been brought to Sofia for comprehensive examination. The veterinarians have found sand in his bladder and diagnosed kidney fibrosis. The upcoming results of a CT scan will provide more details about his health. As soon as the lion is fit enough, FOUR PAWS will transfer him to one of its own sanctuaries.

Search for a new home

A new home also awaits the two oldest lions from the Razgrad zoo as well as the two lion cubs from the same inbred line. The youngest family members, 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 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 well-being of the 6-year-old siblings as well as that of the other zoo residents.

Zoo without a license

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 to finance this enterprise. Currently, over 25 mammals – including lions, deer, reindeer, lamas, foxes and hogs – as well as a number of birds, live in the illegal zoo.

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FOUR PAWS press contact

Elise Burgess

Elise Burgess

Head of Communications

M: 0423 873 382

FOUR PAWS Australia
GPO Box 2845 

Main Phone: 1800 454 228

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, animals in fashion, 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.

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