Sedated lion rescued from 'Zoo from Hell' (Image: FOURPAWS)
Police broke into the Albanian park so that a team from international charity FOUR PAWS could free the animals from their squalid, rusty cages.
Veterinarians set about sedating the animals before they could be transported away from the Safari Park Zoo inMbrostar to Tirana Z oo in the Albanian capital.
Today the charity gave a detailed account of the rescue operation that involved around 20 veterinary staff and was the climax of its three-year investigation into the park dubbed “Europe’s worst zoo” and the “Zoo from Hell” by international media.
Veterinarian Marc Gölkel, who was part of the FOUR PAWS rescue team, said: “What we saw was shocking: dirty, little concrete enclosures with desolate animals inside.
“The animals are all in bad condition. 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.”
Bears wait to be rescued in their rusty cage (Image: FOURPAWS)
Sadly, not all the 11 rescued animals survived. A weakened zebra died shortly after being released into an enclosure at the capital's zoo. The zebra had been sedated before being loaded into a horse trailer and was conscious while being transferred to Tirana but died as soon as it was freed.
Vet Gölkel said: “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."
FOUR PAWS worked with the Albanian ministry of tourism and environment along with a special command from the country's police force who broke through the entrance gate at the start of the rescue operation.
Besides the lions, bear and zebra, the rescuers also took a waterbuck, fox, a red deer and three fallow deer.
One of the sedated lions is put on a drip as it begins journey to a new life (Image: FOURPAWS)
Ioana Dungler, director of the wild animals department at FOUR PAWS, thanked the Albanian authorities for their support.
She said: “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.
“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 will transfer bear Dushi to our bear sanctuary in Germany.”
The owner of the Albanian safari park has been interviewed by AFP.
Owner Petrit Osmani, who has been running the zoo for around 15 years, strongly opposed the raid and has denied his animals were sick or malnourished.
He told AFP: “You don’t have the right! These animals are my children, you are taking away my children!”
His lawyer, Elvis Sulejmani, said the owner had filled out all the necessary documentation for the animals, and complained that authorities illegally took possession of the animals without a court verdict.