Off to a new life: 3 Albanian lions sent to Dutch cat center

TIRANA, Albania — Three formerly hungry lions being housed at Tirana Zoo in Albania have been sedated and in about 48 hours will wake up at the Felida Big Cat Centre in the Netherlands.

Ioana Dungler, the project leader from Four Paws, an international animal welfare group, said experts put the lions in specially equipped vehicles Tuesday and were driving the animals — named Lenci, Bobby and Zhaku — to the Netherlands.

"They are safe to travel," said veterinarian Marc Goelkel.

The lions and eight other animals were removed from a private zoo in western Albania last October due to fears they were malnourished. They had remained in cages at the public Tirana Zoo, which Four Paws also considers unfit, while authorities were in a legal dispute with their former owners. A Four Paws team has taken care of them during this time.

Dungler said the lions were allowed to leave after other nations and animal groups put pressure on Albanian authorities. She also thanked Tirana Zoo for offering a "temporary solution. Otherwise, the whole rescue operation would not be possible" but said they could not stay there permanently.

"If you see the conditions here, I don't think you need to be an expert to understand that this is not the way to keep wild animals," said Dungler, noting that Tirana Zoo has small, cement-floor cages. "The sun, the good care of Felida and the grass will make a difference for them."

Albania's Environment Ministry, which has been overseeing the matter, said they had no comment on the transfer.

Albania has other wild animals that are being kept privately in unfit places and need "a completely different zoo profile" to live in, Dungler said, urging Albanian authorities to cooperate on future animal transfers.

"We just need their commitment and the proper legislation," said Dungler.

Four Paws also is assisting Albanian authorities in a feasibility study for an animal sanctuary at Dajti Mountain near Tirana, the capital.

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Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini

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