Animal welfare group and Albania quarrel over 3 lions' fate

Children watch a lion in its cage at a zoo in Tirana, Thursday, April 18, 2019. An international animal welfare charity was locked in a spat Thursday with the Albanian government over three lions destined for a sanctuary in the Netherlands. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

An international animal welfare charity is locked in a spat with the Albanian government over three lions destined for a sanctuary in the Netherlands

TIRANA, Albania — An international animal welfare group was locked in a dispute with the Albanian government Thursday over three lions that were removed from a private zoo but not been taken to their new home in the Netherlands.

The lions require proper medical care but remain caged in Albania due to Tirana's "bureaucratic arbitrariness," a statement by animal welfare group Four Paws said. However, the government insists its hands are tied by a lawsuit.

The three lions, named Lenci, Bobby and Zhaku, were among 11 animals seized by authorities from a private zoo in October due to fears they were malnourished. They were moved to a public zoo that Four Paws also considers unfit.

"They stay in these closed cages, built in the 1970s, walk on cement floors and get nervous from having people this close," said Blandi Mustafai, one of the two Four Paws employees taking care of them.

He said the lions are in good physical health but suffering psychologically.

The owner of the private Safari Park Zoo sued after the 11 animals were confiscated. Despite the lawsuit, the Albanian government this month sent a three-legged bear named Dushi to Germany.

Four Paws says the government now argues that the lions cannot be sent to their assigned sanctuary in the Netherlands because of the lawsuit.

Ioana Dungler, a Four Paws director who was responsible for rescuing the animals from Safari Park Zoo, complained the government has repeatedly postponed the lions' departure.

The Environment Ministry, which is overseeing the matter, has not commented.

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