London 28th September 2020 – Inbreeding, poor keeping conditions, illegally operating facilities, and insufficiently controlled zoo permits: Research by the global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS reveals a systemic neglect of animal welfare in Bulgaria’s zoos. Two reportedly inbred lion cubs, Simba and Kossara, born in Blagoevgrad Zoo in Southwestern Bulgaria in early July are among the most recent victims of the authorities’ negligence. The cubs have been brought from one inappropriate enclosure to another and neither is equipped for their species-appropriate long-time care. For many years the responsible Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water has been legalising inappropriate facilities by granting them zoo permits, without ensuring that EU Zoo Directive husbandry, conservation and education standards are met. In light of its new campaign that aims to end the suffering of captive wild animals in numerous Bulgarian zoos,FOUR PAWS urges the Bulgarian government to end this cycle of cruelty, close all illegal and inappropriate facilities and ensure the well-being of all wild animals kept in Bulgarian zoos.
Born to parents who are brother and sister, the cubs were originally discovered curled up in the sand at the bottom of a small box, after the lioness was unable to cope with caring for them. Shortly after discovery they were transported from the zoo to a clinic in Sofia in early July because they were very weak. At this time FOUR PAWS offered support from its experienced wildlife caretakers and offered a lifetime species-appropriate home for the cubs in its FELIDA Big Cat Centre in the Netherlands. However, in late August, the Bulgarian authorities brought Simba and Kossara to another inappropriate enclosure in the city of Varna on the Bulgarian black sea coast, without considering FOUR PAWS’ offer. “The responsible authorities avoided meeting FOUR PAWS and secretly arranged for the cubs to be brought to Varna Zoo, which is also incapable of providing long-time care for the lions. Instead of prioritising the well-being of the animals, the authorities placed Kossara and Simba in yet another hopeless situation. These cubs need species-appropriate care urgently to give them the best chance for a life without constant suffering. The responsible Ministry must close all facilities that do not fulfil the requirements of the animals in their care. Bulgaria must once and for all stop legalising inappropriate facilities and perpetuating this cycle of abuse,” says Barbara van Genne, responsible for Wild Animal Rescue and Advocacy at FOUR PAWS.
Bulgaria's record of animal suffering in cruel zoos
In recent years, Bulgaria has seen multiple cases of lion cubs born in cruel conditions and with bleak prospects for their survival and future. In 2019, two lion cubs died shortly after they were born in a cruel zoo in the city of Haskovo. Two surviving cubs are kept in a small cage in the same zoo with the purpose to attract visitors, but the zoo does not have room for them when they grow up and their future remains unsure. In February 2018, FOUR PAWS was able to rescue lion cubs Terez and Masoud following public outcry in Bulgaria. The inbred cubs were born in Razgrad Zoo, an illegal facility notorious for its mistreatment and inbreeding of lions. “Terez and Masoud received the best possible care from our experienced team of veterinarians and animal caretakers. Sadly though Masoud died in July 2020 as a result of the severe health problems caused by inbreeding and the poor conditions under which his life started” says Van Genne.
It is believed that there are 24 lions and 15 tigers held in captivity in Bulgaria, of which only a handful are being looked after properly. Most of these big cats are in state zoos built during the Soviet era which are underfunded and decaying. But the shortcomings in animal welfare in Bulgaria are not limited to lions, nor to single zoos, but widespread across the country. “No more animal should die or suffer at the hands of negligent authorities,” says Van Genne. The purpose and opinions of zoos is sadly persevering the desire as Van Genne describes: “The zoos are still seen as places of simple entertainment rather than conservation and education. So once the attraction of the cubs wears off, they’ll be forgotten like the other animals”.
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, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Hungary, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.uk