Was the Public Deceived About Lions Rescued from Romanian Zoo?

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Was the Public Deceived About Lions Rescued from Romanian Zoo?

By Sharon Seltzer on Care2.com

A pride of 13 neglected lions from a zoo in Romania touched down at Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire, England in what is being called – The Biggest-Ever Cat Rescue. The lions that range in age from 15 months to 27 years old will now make their way to their new home at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

The details of this story are little perplexing and left me wondering whether the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the public weren’t slightly deceived about the underlying reasons the zoo wanted the lions removed from their facility.

Is this a case of a zoo that was genuinely overwhelmed by the cost of taking care of 18 big cats and needed help or is it a situation of “passing the buck” and responsibilities to another organization to free up cash?

Pride of Yorkshire

The story about the lions, that have been named the Pride of Yorkshire, began last summer when an animal charity in Romania asked the Wildlife Park in the UK to help. They told the Wildlife Park that the state-run Oradea Zoo, where the lions were living, had run out of money to care for the animals and was being condemned.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park was told the zoo could no longer afford to feed the lions who were living in small rusty metal cages that measured 15ft. by 12ft. The lions lived four to a cage on filthy concrete floors. They were emaciated, covered in sores, weak and arthritic.

Zoo officials said they faced two options: locate a sanctuary that would rescue the lions or have them shot.

John Minon, animal director at the Wildlife Park flew to Romania to see the lions in August 2009. He told the Daily Mail, “I was truly shocked when I saw them and knew we had to help. The lions were living in awful conditions.”

“The zookeepers care for the animals, but they don’t have any money or the proper resources, and can’t even put tires up for them to play with,” continued Minon.

Minon and his team returned to the UK determined to save the lions. Over the next six months they raised enough money to nurse the animals back to health and provide them with a fully equipped shelter. And once they get to the Wildlife Park they will have a nine-acre compound to run around. Donations for the project were made primarily by individuals who wanted to help.

Cheryl Williams, director of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park said, “It’s been a real team effort. Everyone at the park’s been working so hard to get the enclosure ready and then there’s the 12,500 people who gave donations to make this happen. I want to thank everyone who’s helped.”

“It’s really exciting,” Williams continued. “It will be the first time in their lives they will be able to run at their natural speed.”

The Rescue Mission

The rescued lions traveled in a converted Boeing 747 that was donated by the Yorkshire based airline Jet2. The airline stripped out the seats from the jet to accommodate their special passengers.

Each lion was outfitted in a separate crate and a veterinarian traveled onboard with them. The group landed in a remote part of the airport away from the public – just in case one of the lions got a little anxious.

Pilot Warwick Swancott said he had no problems with his passengers. “It’s certainly the most unusual group of passengers I’ve had on board, but they were no trouble at all.” Because the pride was used to the freezing conditions in Romania, the temperature in the airplane cabin was turned down to keep the calm.

Out of the original group of 18 lions, 13 will live at the Wildlife Park. Three others have been returned to the wild in Africa and two will stay in Romania.

Perplexing Facts

The Oradea Zoo was built 37 years ago while Romania was under the communist regime. It is still home to 800 animals. And since it received aid for the lions, the zoo has managed to put together enough money to start a renovation project to modernize the facility.

In an interview with the Daily Mail Daiana Ghender, director of Oradea seemed to blame the lions for the zoo’s financial troubles. She said, “If we had kept the lions we would have spent all the money on their comfort and this (renovation) would simply not have been possible.”

“The problem is the local authority has invested nothing in the zoo so there is no money for animals to be well fed, even though they are forcing us to break the law for the protection of animals.”

“As it is I am so very happy for the lions. I have worked so hard with my team and with my friends who love animals, to make this happen.” “It was a miracle we managed to save these animals.”

So is this a case of an overwhelmed zoo that is grateful its lions were saved or a facility that wanted to free up funds by passing off the burden of their big cats to another group?