TIRANA, Albania - Three lions, rescued in October from a private zoo in Albania where they were kept in "hellish" conditions, were transported Tuesday to the Netherlands, an animal welfare organization said.
"After a temporary stay in the Tirana zoo, Lensi, Boby and Zhak will be in Felida Big Cat Center in the Netherlands until their complete recovery," said Saimir Shehu of Albanian branch of the Four Paws welfare group.
In October police forcibly removed 11 animals, including the lions, from the private zoo at Fier, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital Tirana, after being alerted by Four Paws that they were being kept in "absolutely horrible" living conditions.
"It's a hellish way of keeping animals," said Ioana Gabriela Dungler of Four Paws at the time.
The animals were transferred to the capital, but "the lions require a special medical care and the zoo in Tirana, where they are in cages, cannot provide them optimal conditions," Shehu told AFP.
The lions are in good physical health but show behavioral problems probably due to inappropriate living conditions in the small animal park surrounded by buildings in Tirana.
Depending on their readaptation in the Netherlands, where their new environment will be similar to their natural habitat, the officials will decide whether to keep them there or send them to South Africa.
One of the lions, Lensi, had a serious eye infection and has been at risk of going blind. Another 2 show serious behavioral problems and also need extra care in order to fully recover.
In addition to the 3 lions, a bear and a zebra, some deer, antelopes and foxes were also removed from the zoo in Fieri, which has been closed since the raid.
The bear was sent to Germany, the zebra died on the way to Tirana zoo, the antelopes are healthy, and the foxes were released to freedom.
The Felida center is located in Nijeberkoop, a small village in the Northern part of the Netherlands and takes care of big cats that lived in poor, abusive conditions in private captivity, circuses or zoos.