Lion cub Nikola at his new outdoor enclosure at FELIDA

A Lion Cub’s Journey Across Europe to a Better Life

FOUR PAWS transfers rescued lion Nikola from Montenegro to FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary 


Vienna, 22 June 2022 – From Montenegro to Croatia, onwards through Slovenia, Austria and Germany until the final stop in the Netherlands: Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS successfully transferred a male lion cub rescued from illegal private keeping to its FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary, where he arrived on 21 June.

The now nine-month-old lion was found and captured by the Montenegrin authorities in February 2022. He had escaped from his former home and was roaming the streets near Budva on the Adriatic coast for ten days, exhausted and starving. FOUR PAWS supported with the search and rescue of the lion cub and his temporary care before the transfer to his new forever home.

Recently multiple cases of lion cubs used as pets, offered for sale or as entertainment were reported in Southeast Europe. The animals are victims of the illegal wildlife trade, which causes the suffering of millions of wild animals worldwide every year. 

FOUR PAWS worked together with the Environmental Protection Agency of Montenegro (EPA) and local NGO “Center for the Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro” (CZIP) to provide care and a temporary local home for the young lion. While arranging the documents needed for the transfer to FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary, FOUR PAWS experts visited multiple times to provide advice, check on Nikola’s health and to perform a small but urgent surgery.

Finally, on 20 June, a FOUR PAWS team and a wildlife veterinarian from the Leibnitz Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) picked Nikola up for the journey to his new home. Over 2.000 kilometres and six country borders later, he arrived safe and sound at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary.

“We are grateful for the swift actions of the Montenegrin authorities and great collaboration with them and CZIP for finding a suitable solution for little Nikola. Although he received dedicated care on-site, there are simply no species-appropriate places in Montenegro for a young lion. Therefore, it is especially important that Nikola receives tailored care at our FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary. He can now recover from the turbulent first months of his life and get the care he needs to grow up to be a healthy lion,” 

says Barbara van Genne, responsible for Wild Animal Rescues at FOUR PAWS.

Spike in illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Europe

“This single case is part of a much bigger problem, namely the illegal and commercial keeping, breeding, and trading of big cats in Southeast Europe. The commercial trade with big cats includes interactions, private keeping or circus shows, and is legal in most countries in Europe. It is often a conduit for illegal activities. Over the past months, we have received multiple messages regarding lion and tiger cubs offered for sale or kept in illegal private keeping in Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia. We suspect that the cubs are being traded and transported between these countries illegally. We urge the governments to put proper legislation and enforcement in place to protect captive wild animals from the exploitation resulting from the commercial and illegal trade,” says Vanessa Amoroso, who heads the Wild Animals in Trade unit at FOUR PAWS.

In Montenegro the keeping of wild animals in circuses, zoos and in private captivity is legal, provided that the facility has been licensed from EPA and fulfils certain minimum standards. FOUR PAWS calls for a ban on the keeping of wild animals like lions, tigers, and bears in circuses and private keeping, and to set up a clear licensing system for zoos and sanctuaries only. FOUR PAWS and EPA have agreed to work together to accomplish this in Montenegro.

Dutch sanctuary for traumatised big cats

FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands is one of multiple FOUR PAWS sanctuaries worldwide for rescued wild animals. It functions as a special care facility for physically and mentally traumatised big cats. The big cats that recover from the hardships of their past can be transferred to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Animals that need lifelong intensive and special care, stay at FELIDA. New arrival Nikola joins eight other rescued lions and one tiger currently living at the sanctuary.

Lion cub Nikola

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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