Romanian Zoo animals facing slaughter…thanks to the EU

Is having higher standards a trade-up, a sign of “better” things? Not always.

The EU’s standard, the European Zoo Directive, was meant as benchmark for animal welfare, minimum standards that zoos are expected to keep their exhibits in.

Romania, long notorious for the dismal conditions in its zoos, joined the EU early this year. Of course most of Romania’s 41 zoos, at 35 or more, fail the standards.

But here’s the rub – instead of reaching out to help the abused and mistreated animals, the directive is causing them to be killed!

In place of salvation, the EU standard is shaping up to be the death sentence for many of Romania’s zoo animals. And not all of them will be granted the kindness of a peaceful death by lethal injection… many were sold as food.

The campaign to help the Romanian zoo animals is hardly new. I remember watching a documentary about rescue efforts for animals in zoos like Romania’s (but it was many years ago and I don’t remember the title anymore, only it was a BBC production).

For eg the Born-free foundation‘s Romanian Zoo page:

Stop zoo suffering

Sinbad the lion in Bacau Zoo
Sinbad lived alone

A lion gazes bleakly through the rusty wire of his cramped cage. Sinbad is only six years old and should be in his prime. But this thin young male is desperately undersized and his teeth are broken and worn.

Sinbad is just 80cm (32”) long and 125kg (20st) in weight. That’s half the size of a normal lion. Kept on a bare concrete floor, this forlorn lion only has an old log and a car tyre for ‘enrichment’. Sinbad lives in Bacau Zoo in eastern Romania. The authorities want a better life for him, but simply do not have the resources.

As many of you know, the plight of countless zoo animals in Romania is truly desperate. The suffering is unforgettable and heart-breaking.

As you can see in the photos below, a wretched bear reaches out from its squalid enclosure. A tiger paces endless circles in a bleak cage, its mate slumped in a corner. A listless elderly chimp has a miserable existence.

We can’t let this continue.

A wretched bear
© J Knight
A tiger paces
© C Wright/BFF
A miserable existence

Fortunately, Romania joined the European Union in January 2007 and now has to comply with European-wide legislation, including the EU Zoos Directive. Born Free and our Romanian colleagues at APAR are keen to help them alleviate the atrocious suffering in many of the country’s 41 zoos.

Our plans are ambitious. Working with the Romanian Government, we want to transform the lives of the zoo animals, with the long-term aim of phasing out the worst zoos.

(read on…)

However, the EU standards may acerbate the deaths of the suffering animals, according to2 news articles in UK papers. This one by the Telegraph:

Lions to die in sub standard Romanian zoos

By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

Last Updated: 1:50am BST 30/07/2007



Romania’s lions face a death sentence as the country’s neglected zoos lose the battle to implement European Union regulations aimed at animal welfare.

Government inspectors have already condemned three lions in Bahusi zoo, in Eastern Romania, to death by lethal injection and campaigners estimate that hundreds of animals in up to 20 zoos are at risk.

A BBC investigation has found that deformed, aged or sick animals are to be killed as the cash-strapped authorities admit that many of Romania’s 41 zoos, often burdened with the legacy of the Communist era, will fail to make the grade on EU Directives by a December 31 deadline.

Bahusi Zoo is one of the institutions so shocking that it has been closed to the public. Its remaining animals have been rejected by other zoos in other countries and face death.

Bahusi’s three lions, scarred by their poor treatment throughout their lives, will be put down despite being only five to six years old.

The lions, Bella, Romani and Gypsi were rejected by foreign zoos because they bear the scars of mistreatment and confined cages.

“In a better equipped zoo, they could live to 20,” said Monica Minciu of the Romanian Alliance for the Protection of Animals.

“The problem is what to do with all these animals once this and other zoos close. Unless funds are not found quickly or a home for the animals is found in Romania, the most probable thing which will happen with these animals is that they will be put down.”

Mihaita Afrenie, the manager of Timisoara zoo, in Western Romania, told the BBC that three lions there are to be “shot” because their cages are not big enough under EU rules

British Euro MP Robert Evans is pushing for a rescue plan to be coordinated between the EU and Romania before zoos are forced to close at the end of the year.

“The Romanians are really struggling to put this EU Directive into practice” he said.

“I think it’s time that the rest of the EU took responsibility so that we can save the lives of animals, like the lions at Bahusi.”

“The other 26 richer countrie of the EU have got to come to Romania’s assistance, not just with money but technical assistance. This is not Romania’s fault, they simply do not have the money.”

The WSPA, a British animal rescue organisation, is working in Romania to save zoo bears that might be slaughtered or “sold to restaurants which hold them in tiny cages as tourist attractions”.

“We’re building a second bear enclosure now to take in around 15 bears that have to be rehomed from at least five zoos that are closing down due to the European Zoo Directive,” said the WSPA’s Victor Watkins.

And this one in the Daily Mail:

Campaign: Zoo animals facing slaughter…thanks to the EU

Join the Mail On Sunday’s urgent crisis appeal

By DANIEL BOFFEY – More by this author »

Last updated at 13:17pm on 9th January 2007

Pacing the perimeter of his small enclosure for hours on end, the bedraggled tiger barely notices the taunts of zoo visitors trying to make him snarl.

Click here to donate to our crisis appeal
Video: Click here to see the stricken zoo animals in captivity

Nearby a lion peers out of a dark, dank hut in his pen to catch a brief glimpse of the winter sun that reaches his enclosure for a few short hours every day.

And, in cages measuring 5ft by 14ft, three bears lumber aimlessly in seemingly endless circles around putrid pools of their own excrement.


These are the wretched conditions endured by residents of the Zoological Gardens of Bucharest in Romania.

And the only escape for these animals from their miserable existence – and for hundreds of others in the 35 other zoos scattered across Romania – will be in death.

For, as the people of Romania look forward to a brighter future as the newest citizens of the EU, many of the country’s decrepit zoos – which do not come up to EU animal welfare standards – face closure.

This will leave those animals who cannot be moved – and that could be hundreds – facing slaughter.

Indeed, it has already started. When the Timisoara zoo in western Romania closed, the local newspaper reported how birds were cooked and fed to the poor, a lion was poisoned and a bear was shot.

And a rundown zoo in the northern district of Buhusi has just shut, leaving welfare groups desperately seeking a rescue plan for its big cats, bears and dingoes. Some of them are crippled by malnourishment and abuse.

A further five zoos will close in the next few months because of the miserable state of their facilities. Many others are urgently seeking funds to clean up their act and stay in business.

Animal campaigners working in Romania, including the Born Free organisation, are desperate to rescue the animals on death row – and they are asking for help from readers of The Mail on Sunday.

“For many of the zoos, euthanasia is the only option,’ said Victor Watkins of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

“The Romanians have not got to grips with the problem that their zoos are not up to standard and that they will have to be closed.

“In some cases it means the management will have to find places in other facilities, maybe outside Romania. In other cases, the animals will be killed.”

It is a prospect that horrifies Monica Minciu, president of the Alliance of Protection of Animals in Romania, who has been monitoring the country’s zoos in the run-up to EU membership.

She said: “I heard about the killings at the zoo in western Romania and these things do happen. I have to hope that the public outcry at such killings would stop these things happening again but we just don’t know.”

She revealed: “Animals are killed like this or they are sold on to be hunted when zoos don’t want them.

“I believe many zoos will close, but because they will not know what to do with the animals we have to hope that they will stay open in some way to look after them. We need help.”

At the crumbling Zoological Gardens of Bucharest, built in 1959, managers fear the worst and are desperate to save their animals. But there is no money to build the new bigger enclosures that will be required by EU law later this year.

Of particular concern have been the bears, a 17-year-old mother, Florentina, her nine-year-old girl cub, Jonni, and 15-year-old male, Vassilica.

The zoo’s vet said: “I do not know what the future holds. We wouldn’t kill our animals if we closed. That would be murder.

“But, yes, we have had recommendations about the bears. They should obviously be in more space, that is why they are disturbed.

“But to build bigger enclosures for them would be very expensive and even if we had the money we have not got the space.”

The director of the zoo, Ancuta Oprea, admitted that she was powerless to alleviate the suffering of the bears in her care. She said: “We can’t do anything for the bears. We just try to distract them from the lack of space by giving them things to play with or by changing their food so that they will not think about it.”

Plans have been drawn up for closing the Bucharest zoo and replacing it with a 42-hectare ‘funpark’ where the animals will have the space they need.

But it is a huge challenge. European law requires that the zoos participate in research, promote public education and ‘keep animals in a manner that satisfies their biological needs’.

It also requires that local authorities monitor the institutions, license them and design ‘preserves in a manner suited to the needs of the species’ and have fully trained vets.

These targets are unrealistic for zoos in the poorest areas of the country. They cannot afford to build educational facilities or train up teams of experts to monitor the zoos.

Many can barely buy food for the animals and several local authorities are deciding that the extra costs are too high and will close their zoos.

There is at least hope for the bears, following the intervention of The Mail on Sunday – they are to be resettled in a sanctuary run by the WSPA in the Carpathian mountains.

Elsewhere in the Bucharest zoo there is a deepening sense of foreboding. The eerie silence is broken only by prehistoric groans from the 13 tigers in captivity.

Packs of stray dogs scavenge for bones among the enclosures. And in the aviary, a starling has been added, simply to give the lone eagle some company.

But that does not stop the great bird regularly flinging itself into the rusty fence that keeps it captive.

Click here to donate to our crisis appeal
Video: Click here to see the stricken zoo animals in captivity

Standards are good, but they’re not the remedy to everything – just like Singapore’s Zero Homeless Cat policy is ill-advised, to put it very midly. The European Zoo Directive will hopefully go some way toward ensuring zoos in Romania treat the animals being exhibited as they should be, but the crunch is now, and the suffering animals in the currently dismal zoos need help.


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One response to “Romanian Zoo animals facing slaughter…thanks to the EU

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