Animal Charity

Lion from illegal Bulgarian zoo joins family members in The Netherlands

FOUR PAWS transfers lion Ivan-Asen to its Big Cat Centre FELIDA 


The international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS provides a better life for another 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 25th. 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 that he needs after the neglect he 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 arriving 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 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 recovered enough to move to our Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa,” explains FOUR PAWS big cat expert Barbara van Genne.

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. Therefore, risky anaesthesia for the already weakened lion could be 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-owned Big Cat Centre FELIDA, which is located in the Dutch town of Nijeberkoop. By taking over the project in 2014, the international animal welfare organisation also assumed 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 into large close-to-nature enclosures.

Zoo without license

Razgrad Zoo opened in 1960 and is located in north-eastern 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 different 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 that, FOUR PAWS successfully ended the illegal breeding of lions at Razgrad Zoo.

Hannah Baker

Head of Communications UK 

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