On 28 October 2018, international animal protection organisation FOUR PAWS, together with the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment, evacuated eleven neglected wild animals from the Safari Park Zoo in Mbrostar in Fier County, Albania.
An international team of veterinarians as well as a special unit of the Albanian police supervised the rescue mission. FOUR PAWS brought the animals – including three lions and a three-legged bear – temporarily to a zoo in Albania’s capital, Tirana. As soon as the animals have recovered, FOUR PAWS will transfer them to species-appropriate sanctuaries.
For safety reasons, the owner of Safari Park Zoo was not informed in advance about the confiscation of the wild animals. In a dramatic turn of events, the police had to break the entrance gate to give the almost 20-person FOUR PAWS rescue team access to the zoo.
“What we saw was shocking: dirty little concrete enclosures with desolate animals inside. The animals are all in bad condition. Lenci the lion suffers from a growth on the conjunctiva of his left eye that needs to be treated. The three-legged female bear Dushi is very emaciated and has clear behavioural disorders," said veterinarian Marc Gölkel, part of the FOUR PAWS rescue team.
"We are glad that we got these animals out of this rundown prison. A big thank you goes to the Albanian government that made this mission possible.”
Ioana Dungler, FOUR PAWS Wild Animals Department Director
First stop: Tirana Zoo
The top priority was to get the animals to a safe place as quickly as possible. FOUR PAWS temporarily transferred the three lions, the three-legged bear, the zebra, the fox, the waterbuck, the red deer and three fallow deer to the zoo in Tirana where new enclosures for the rescued animals were built. Originally, twelve wild animals were on the FOUR PAWS rescue list, but the tortoise could not be found.
“We know that the conditions at Tirana Zoo are not ideal for the rescued animals, but it was the safest option. We are currently working on more species-appropriate solutions. The three lions will probably come to our big cat centre FELIDA in the Netherlands. There we specialise in the rehabilitation of particularly difficult cases. It is likely that we will transfer bear Dushi to our BEAR SANCTUARY Müritz in Germany,” said Dungler.
Zebra dies after transfer
As is the usual practice in wild animal transfers, the team of veterinarians sedated the zebra and loaded him for transportation into a horse trailer. During the transfer he was fully conscious, but shortly after being released into an enclosure at Tirana Zoo the zebra died unexpectedly.
“There is always a residual risk with anaesthesia – especially if the animals come from poor keeping conditions. The anaesthesia and the two-hour transfer were obviously too much for the weakened zebra. We are all sad that we could not help this poor animal more,” said Gölkel.
Safari Park Zoo in Fier: 'Europe's Worst Zoo'
FOUR PAWS has investigated the Safari Park Zoo since December 2015. Due to legal regulations, however, it had never been possible to intervene. Photos from inside the Albanian zoo appeared in mid-October 2018 and led to an outcry at home and abroad after the images showed the terrible living conditions of the animals. International media dubbed the Safari Park Zoo 'Europe's worst zoo' and 'Zoo from hell'.
FOUR PAWS is an international animal protection organisation with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Founded by Heli Dungler in 1988, the organisation strives to help animals in need through work which is based on substantiated research and scientific expertise, as well as national and international lobbying. FOUR PAWS focuses on animals who suffer under human influence: stray animals, animals used in fashion, companion animals, wild animals and farmed animals.
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.