Lion from illegal Bulgarian zoo joins family members in The Netherlands

FOUR PAWS provides a better life for lion rescued from a Bulgarian zoo 


Lion Ivan-Asen arrived safely at the animal welfare organisation's Big Cat Centre FELIDA in the Netherlands on March 25. A FOUR PAWS team had rescued him at the end of 2017, together with four other lions, from an illegal zoo in Razgrad where inbreeding and serious welfare issues were occurring. The goal of the upcoming work with Ivan-Asen is to provide him with the intensive care he needs after the neglect he has had to endure in his young life.

The transfer of Ivan-Asen follows that of the lion siblings Masoud and Terez, whom FOUR PAWS already brought to FELIDA in early February 2018. With Ivan-Asen's arrival at the Dutch Big Cat Centre, the lions, who come from the same family, are reunited.

“We are happy that Ivan-Asen, too, has found a suitable home. Since we rescued him, his health condition is slowly improving. At FELIDA, our team of experts will make sure that he is provided with the further care he now needs. In the long term, we will evaluate if Ivan-Asen has recovered enough to move to our Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa.” 

Barbara van Genne, FOUR PAWS big cat expert

1,962 kilometres without anaesthesia

Ivan-Asen was in very bad shape when FOUR PAWS first arrived at Razgrad Zoo in November 2017. Fortunately, the lion responded well to the treatment he received after his rescue during his temporary stay at Sofia Zoo. During this time, a FOUR PAWS animal keeper crate-trained Ivan-Asen on-site, with the result that he voluntarily went into his transport box. In this way, risky anaesthesia for the already weakened lion was avoided. Dr Marc Gölkel from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) was present during the entire transfer to examine and observe the three-year-old lion and attest to his ability to travel.

Home to many big cats

Ivan-Asen will now be able to further recover at the FOUR PAWS Big Cat Centre FELIDA, located in the Dutch town of Nijeberkoop. The international animal welfare organisation took over the centre in 2014, so assuming responsibility for the 26 big cats who were already housed there at the time. As FELIDA was primarily intended to serve as a transit and rehabilitation centre, FOUR PAWS moved most of the wild animals to the FOUR PAWS Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa. Besides the three lions rescued from Bulgaria, five tigers currently live at the Dutch Big Cat Centre. In the future, FOUR PAWS plans to expand the facility so that even more big cats can be rescued from poor keeping conditions and placed in large, near-natural enclosures.

Zoo without a license

Razgrad Zoo opened in 1960 and is located in northeastern Bulgaria. Although its license expired in 2014, the zoo remains open to visitors for free, and was financed by the unprofessional (in)breeding and sale of lions. Animals of various species – including lions, deer, reindeer, llamas, foxes, hogs and birds – still live in the illegal zoo. Since the city owns the zoo, FOUR PAWS convinced the mayor of Razgrad to intervene. At the end of last year, an international team of veterinarians provided medical care to the lions and sterilised two adult males. With this step, FOUR PAWS successfully ended the illegal breeding of lions at Razgrad 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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