On 28th October 2018, international animal welfare 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 command 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.
Due to 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 conditions. Lenci the lion suffers from a proliferation 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," says veterinarian Marc Gölkel, who was 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”, adds Ioana Dungler, Director of the Wild Animals Department at FOUR PAWS.
First stop: Zoo in Tirana
The top priority was to get the animals to a safe place as quickly as possible. Therefore, FOUR PAWS temporarily transferred the three lions, the three-legged bear, the zebra, the fox, the waterbuck, the red deer and the three fallow deer to the zoo in Tirana where new enclosures for the rescued animals were built. Originally, twelve wild animals were on FOUR PAWS’ rescue list, however, 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 transfer bear Dushi to our BEAR SANCTUARY Müritz in Germany”, says Dungler.
Zebra dies after transfer
As is common practice in wild animal transfers, the team of veterinarians sedated the zebra and loaded him for transportation into the horse trailer. During the transfer he was fully conscious, however 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 been investigating the Safari Park Zoo since December 2015. Due to legal regulations, however, it has 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 called the Safari Park Zoo "Europe's worst zoo" and "Zoo from Hell".