26 January 2016
The plight of lions and bears living in terrible conditions at a run-down zoo in Armenia has been causing huge international concern, following their shocking situation being highlighted in the media.
The three lions and two bears are believed to be the only surviving animals left at Gyumri Zoo, following their abandonment by their billionaire owner. The good news is that a coalition of international animal welfare organisations is investigating all opportunities to quickly alleviate the suffering and plight of these poor animals.
Using the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) team currently based in Armenia, International Animal Rescue, Born Free Foundation, Brigitte Bardot Foundation, Pro Paws, SOS Gyumri Zoo and the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) are pooling financial and technical resources and working together to find a rapid solution to move these animals to a place of safety. Our immediate priority is to move these animals to secure areas where they have some access to shelter and the opportunity to express some element of natural behaviour.
Late on Friday, the bears were moved to a rehabilitation enclosure at Yerevan Zoo as a temporary measure. The bears are currently housed next door to the WVS and Pro Paws team where they can be monitored and looked after. The samples required for their CITES permits will be brought back to the UK with WVS next week, and the plan is the bears will then be moved to the Libearty bear sanctuary in Romania. They are still quite weak, each weighing only around 50kg, but are being fed and cared for as they undergo a quarantine period prior to their export to the sanctuary.
The Brigitte Bardot Foundation has funded this and this fantastic charity will now see the bears through to their new home. It’s a brilliant start.
The credit for the rescue is down to several amazing Armenian individuals who have obtained the required permissions, and worked tirelessly to champion these animals and obtain their freedom. There is a tremendous coalition building with a shared united goal of rescuing these poor creatures.
The SOS 'Gyumri Zoo' group have been incredible in their altruism to help feed and support these animals, likewise Serda Ozbenian from the Armenian Environmental Network has been working super hard to raise the profile of their plight. Particular praise should be given to Ruben Khachatryan and his team from the FPWC. Ruben is also the director of the Yerevan zoo who has made all this possible and gone to huge lengths to get the permits through so fast.
The next step is now to move the lions and get them the vital aid they need. It is vital that these lions can be moved to a place of safety, and then plans can be made for their long-term future. We have to construct travel crates in which to move the lions (they cannot be mixed which is a slightly complicating factor), we have to build an enclosure for them, obtain paperwork and plan out their future. Step one is getting them out of the tiny confines of their prison – one of the younger lionesses has wounds on her head from repeatedly slamming them into the bars of her cage, and we need to get her treated. This is where the main funds have to now be directed and to secure their future, we still have a long way to go.
There is also a much wider picture we all need to consider and that is exactly what the coalition of WVS, International Animal Rescue, Born Free Foundation, Brigitte Bardot Foundation, Pro Paws, SOS Gyumri Zoo and the FPWC are all about. The animals at Gyumri Zoo are just a few of the animals being kept in substandard conditions in Armenia. There is an urgent need for legislative change to protect wild animals in Armenia, not least to protect the welfare of the 60+ bears currently kept in abhorrent conditions across the country. Together we plan to work together to effect change and make a difference to all these animals.
More updates to follow soon.
For information about Born Free’s ‘Zoo Check’ campaign