In northern Greece I saw a bear standing on its hind legs, its nose cruelly pierced by a large metal ring. A man, who had the bear on a leash, poked it with a stick as he played tinny music on a small boom box. It happened decades ago but I’ve never forgotten it.
The plight of big animals in Greece now isn’t so dire, with the Attika Zoological Park (which opened in 2000) covering 20 hectares, but it’s been the subject of animal rights criticisms in recent years. In other countries, zoos are a bigger travesty of justice. So when I read about the British charity Four Paws’ successful rescue of a pride of lions from a grungy Romanian zoo, I cheered.
They’ve just been released into Lionsrock, an animal sanctuary in South Africa’s eastern province of Free State. Four Paws rescued the lions from Onesti zoo, where they suffered malnutrition and were forced to share a small cage, with no grass and little sunlight. And just before we let South Africa off the hook, there are now more captive lions in South Africa than wild ones. Many of these animals are reared to be shot and owned by wealthy tourists from Europe and North America. It’s called the “canned hunting” industry. Ugh!
In 2002, four lion cubs used for taking photos with tourists were sent from Romania to a sanctuary in South Africa. Ever since, Four Paws has stepped up rescue efforts and has undertaken research in several countries to collect information about conditions and numbers of big cats in captivity. In November 2007, the first transfer or “rescue action” with two lions from Romania, and 10 lions from Austria took place. Lionsrock is now home to more than 90 big cats.
Worst zoos in the world where you wouldn’t want to take your children:
- Giza Zoo, Egypt: In 2004, the zoo was expelled from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- Mumbai Zoo, India: Unable to replace animals as they died because enclosures don’t conform to anti-cruelty guidelines, the zoo decided to stuff the animals and put them on display in a taxidermy museum
- Kiev Zoo, Ukraine: Critics slam substandard living conditions and negligent handling by unqualified zoo administration
- San Antonio Zoo, the US: rated number one in the 2009 list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants compiled by In Defense of Animals. Elephants kept in tiny enclosures
- Oradea Zoo, Romania: 13 lions rescued from small concrete cages
- Phuket Zoo, Thailand: This comment from TripAdvisor where 253 rated the zoo as terrible: “Animals are chained up and not able to move at all, about 30 crocodiles in a small pen and no water for animals! This zoo Defs needs to be shut down! All of the tigers are so sedated they can’t even open their eyes and are so malnourished its not funny. We refused to get pictures with the tigers as to take a picture the tiger was to be hit and smacked with a stick!!”
- Sources: The Global Post, TripAdvisor and In Defense of Animals.
Learn more about the heroic work of Four Paws here: www.four-paws.org.uk/
Greek animal welfare: www.greekanimalrescue.com
Bear rescue efforts: www.freethebears.org.au
India’s sanctuary: www.wildlifesos.org/rescue/bears/bear-rescue-centres/agra
*Images courtesy of TravMedia