Wild animals suffer in miserable conditions in zoos in Bulgaria


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Help for zoo animals in Bulgaria

Latest investigations done by FOUR PAWS reveal the miserable conditions under which big cats, brown bears and other wild animals are kept in some Bulgarian zoos.

Confined in tiny cages, with hardly any exercise, little to no enrichment, poor professional care, and no opportunities to retreat, these animals suffer enormously. Some of these animals are the result of uncontrolled breeding and even inbreeding, resulting in serious health issues. Despite these abuses and irregularities, the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water has been legalising inappropriate wild animal facilities by granting them a zoo permit. This has been done without ensuring that they meet husbandry, conservation and education standards regulated by the EU Zoo Directive. Even the facilities which remain illegal have been allowed to continue to keep and breed wild animals. This must stop! 

FOUR PAWS calls upon the EU Commissioner for Environment to ensure that Bulgaria ends the legalisation of inappropriate wild animal keeping and upon the Bulgarian Prime Minister to #CloseCruelCages. Help us to improve the lives of bears, big cats and other animals kept in Bulgarian zoos by signing our petition!

The FOUR PAWS report on zoos in Bulgaria

The FOUR PAWS report on zoos in Bulgaria

There are 21 zoos in Bulgaria, distributed throughout the country. Almost all (19) of them are publicly owned and managed by local municipalities. Seventeen of these zoos are open to visitors, including the Kyustendil Zoo, although it has had its license revoked since 2011.


May 2021: We made it!

Thanks to all of you, we collected 50,000 signatures calling for an end of wild animal cruelty in Bulgaria! The next step will be to officially hand over the petition to the Bulgarian Ministry of the Environment and to discuss the findings from our zoo report with the European Commission.

The report provides proof that many animals live in unsuitable conditions while compliance with minimum requirements for animal welfare, conservation, and education systematically fails. We hope that the proof, the public pressure, and our recommendations will lead to concrete and fast actions to improve the life of the animals in many of the zoos in Bulgaria.
 Thank you for your great support, we will keep you posted about further developments!

Brown bears in a town park!

May 2021

Brown bears in a town park! Dimitrovgrad Zoo is a small zoo that keeps a relatively small number of animals. The collection includes birds, rabbits, a ferret, goats, fallow deer, and, surprisingly, two brown bears. They are named Ani and Mitko and have been kept in the zoo for over 20 years!

The zoo has improved the conditions over time and the legal requirements are met. Despite that, we have received several signals about the inappropriate keeping of the bears. FOUR PAWS believes that the keeping is not suitable for them. Additional space and better outdoor structures are needed to provide species-appropriate conditions.

Unfortunately, the bar for keeping bears in Bulgaria
 is very low, as most of the other bear enclosures are even worse for the species than the one in Dimitrovgrad Zoo. This facility is one of 16 zoos open to the public. Most of these zoos keep species for which they are not able to provide a suitable environment!

The lonely lioness in Pleven!

April 2021

The lonely lioness in Pleven!

One of the loneliest and oldest lionesses in Bulgaria lives in Kayluka Zoo in Pleven. Since her partner passed away in 2018, she has been living alone in poor conditions, despite the legal obligation for providing species-appropriate conditions according to the requirements. Like in other zoos in Bulgaria, the requirements of the national legislation have not been applied in the last years: the zoo operated for 3 years and 7 months without a license! Only in 2019 they received a new license, while not complying with the imposed conditions of the license from the preceding period that expired in 2015.

Although the zoo plans to reconstruct the facilities, currently, close-to-nature conditions are not provided for several of the kept species, including the parrots, monkeys
, and the lioness. The necessary enrichment and vegetation required by law are nowhere to be seen in the outdated concrete enclosures.

While the problems with the old and inappropriate facilities have been recognised by both the authorities and the zoo for a long time, the conditions for most of the animals have not been improved.

Six bears in concrete pits in Lovech Zoo

April 2021

Six bears in concrete pits in Lovech Zoo!

Lovech Zoo in Bulgaria keeps six bears, two tigers and two lions.
 The concrete and outdated brown bear enclosures are not suitable for keeping the species, nor for taking in more animals. The zoo must prevent the animals from breeding and not take in new bears.

In recent years, however, brown bears have continued to breed in the zoo, the last 
cub being born in January 2020. During a visit to Lovech Zoo in January 2021, the FOUR PAWS team witnessed a case of neglected hygiene in the enclosure of three bears. The animalwere kept together in an enclosure made entirely out of concrete, without natural vegetation or environmental enrichment and without the possibility to retreat or hideand at the time of our visit – on a floor covered with faeces. 

The facilities 
for the bears, lions and tigers as well as those for some of the other species in the zoo are far from the natural environment of the species and it is not possible to turn them into suitable enclosures only with partial repair and additional environmental enrichment.

 call for an end to breeding and relocation of those animals for which no appropriate facilities can be provided. 

 Investigation into the Zoo of Aytos, Bulgaria.

March 2021

The sad story of the bears from Zoo Aytos!

The two bears of Bulgarian Zoo Aytos have been stuck in a 12-meter-deep underground concrete moat, with no plants and limited light. Aytos Zoo has many good practice examples for wild animal keeping in Bulgaria, but unfortunately there is one bad relict of the past which remains a problem up to today: the keeping of the brown bears.  Their enclosure is not species-appropriate at all and does not satisfy the species-specific needs nor does it comply with the minimum legal requirements. It was built once with the intention of creating a “natural habitat” of concrete and natural rocks, but it offers almost no vegetation or enrichment. The requirements to provide natural materials, privacy, possibilities to take shelter, and sufficient vegetation have not been fulfilled. The zoo management made efforts for enriching the zoo environment which worked well for the other species but changing the conditions for the bears requires a financial investment which the zoo has not been able to afford. The bears have been stuck in this dark, concrete pit for years now.

Many bears, lions
, tigers, and other animals suffer in Bulgarian zoos in horrible conditions!

A stuffed lion found in a private warehouse in Razgad, Bulgaria!

March 2021

A stuffed lion found in a private warehouse in Razgad, Bulgaria! 

The lion was found without documents regarding its origin and is believed to have died and stuffed when he was one year old. According to unconfirmed information shared by Bulgarian media, the lion may have come from Razgrad Zoo and is potentially related to Ivan-Asen, Terez and Masoud. This shocking case is part of a general trend of ambiguity regarding missing animals from Bulgarian zoos. As some zoos do not keep proper track of kept and diseased animals, it is very easy to make animals “disappear”.

What is even more shocking, is the fact that Bulgarian zoos are legally required to keep a complete database of their animals. This database should include information about their collection, including the number of species kept, the origin of the animals and the method of acquisition, the date of acquisition or birth, the date and cause of death, information about the exchange and escape of the animals, the health status and the methods of treatment of the animals.
 While we are relieved, we could rescue five lions from Razgrad zoo in 2018, we believe that further measures need to be taken to improve the situation in Bulgaria. It should be known how many animals are kept in a zoo, what happened to the animals if they are not in their enclosures and what happened to their bodies when they have died. The possibility that zoo animals can end up as stuffed souvenirs in a private warehouse must be completely excluded! We will continue to follow the case and we hope the legislation will be implemented.

Vesko in Sofia zoo

December 2020

The story of the bears Svoboda and Karamush!

Svoboda and Karamush were bought by Russe zoo in 1993. Throughout their time at Russe Zoo they were kept in an inappropriate enclosure adjacent to farm animals. In 2007 they had two cubs, Boyka and Standy, who were rescued by FOUR PAWS from their horrible cage in 2015. Unfortunately we were only able to rescue Boyka and Standy from Russe Zoo in 2015, as their parents, Svoboda and Karamush, had already moved to another zoo in Varna. In Varna Zoo, Svoboda and Karamush were bred again and had another pair of cubs. After a year, one of the cubs was transferred to a zoo abroad.

The other cub – Vesko – remained in Sofia Zoo as there was no suitable place for him anywhere else. Luckily, FOUR PAWS could provide Vesko with a species appropriate forever home and transferred him to DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa 
(Dancing Bears Park Belitsa) , which we run in cooperation with Fondation Brigitte Bardot. When Vesko arrived at the sanctuary in November 2019, his brother and sister, Boyka and Standy, were already enjoying their own enclosure there.

Even though we are able to give the cubs of Karamush and Svoboda a species appropriate life, this was not the case for their parents. Karamush died several years after he was transferred to Varna Zoo. Svoboda is still kept in the old enclosure and after Karamush died lives a lonely life in Varna Zoo.

European zoos keeping wild animals need to comply with the EU Zoo Directive and should carefully manage their breeding program and capacities to provide all animals with the species-appropriate conditions they require. Unfortunately, in some Bulgarian zoos, wild animals are still being bred uncontrollably. As a result, there are often far too many (and even sick) animals living in unsuitable conditions!

Boyka (L), a 7 years old female bear and  Standy (R), a 7 years old male bear  in their enclosure in Nikolovo Mini Zoo Lipnki in Ruse.

December 2020

The story of Boyka and Standy!

Since we rescued them in 2015, Boyka and Standy are two happy bears. It is hard to imagine that their story was like the one of so many other animals closed in cruel cages in substandard illegal zoo facilities. Luckily the cruel cage where they used to live is already long closed and no longer used to keep bears.

Russe zoo or Nikolovo Mini-Zoo Lipnik in Ruse used to keep several animal species among them also brown bears. After the Bulgarian legislation that transposed the European Zoo Directive in 2002 and 2006 came into force, the zoo never received a valid license as it did not comply with the legal requirements for zoos. The facility obtained two bears called Karamush and Svoboda in 1993 which had bear cubs in 2007. The cubs were 
Boyka and Standy. All along after their birth the municipality promised to build a new modern facility to keep the bears but this did not happen. Luckily, after month of negotiations, FOUR PAWS got the green light to rescue Boyka and Standy from the horrible cage they were kept in, and transfer them to Dancing Bears Park Belitsa, which is run in cooperation with Fondation Brigitte Bardot. Now they enjoy a much better life.

This is the story of many other zoo animals as well. While the owners of many other facilities promise renovations and new projects, nothing happens and the animals remain in cruel cages for many years. Actually, this should not happen because the Bulgarian legislation obliges national authorities to control, and also close down such enclosures and facilities if legal requirements are not fulfilled!

Lion Goran in a zoo

December 2020

The sad story of the lion Goran!

The lion Goran received his new name when he was transferred to Haskovo zoo from Varna zoo via a breeding contract around four years ago. In the beginning of 2019 he sired a set of cubs who died. At that time the Haskovo zoo had been operating without a license for a period of almost five years. This did not stop the facility from breeding lions. While the conditions were clearly sub-standard and did not improve, surprisingly in July 2019, Haskovo zoo was awarded a license.

Several months later Goran 
became a dad for the second time. The lioness was too stressed to take care of the cubs, so they were hand-raised by a veterinarian and then returned to a small cage in the zoo. It is still unclear how the facility will ensure sufficient space for the cubs that are growing up fast as the zoo does not have capacity to keep five adult lions and two tigers. Yet they willingly took in new animals and continue to breed with the existing animals.

At present Haskovo zoo keeps lions, tigers, wolves, a monkey, a crocodile, and many other animals in cruel cages that do not comply with the European and Bulgarian legal requirements 
🇧🇬. As the zoo has a valid license, we cannot simply seize or rescue the animals. While facilities continue to operate like this, they will be able to breed, take in and replace the animals in the old cages as they wish.

Tigress in Haskovo zoo in Bulgaria

November 2020

Unbelievable conditions for a tigress in Haskovo zoo in Bulgaria!

At the end of 2018, a tigress was brought to Haskovo zoo in Bulgaria, supposedly to be used for breeding. She was given to the zoo by another zoo in Bulgaria – Stara Zagora zoo that acquired the tigress from the Czech Republic.

At that time, the facility in Haskovo did not have a license to operate as a zoo, but it was still open to the public, continued to keep its animals, and took in new animals including this tigress. She was placed in one of the most horrible cages we have ever seen in a Bulgarian zoo. This cage once hosted a bear that we rescued in 2009. The cage had been empty since then and was not supposed to keep any more animals. Instead of destroying the cage, the zoo maintained it. Ten years later, it became the new home of this tigress.

When a zoo fails to provide basic animal welfare conditions, it should not be allowed to take in new animals. Since the arrival of the tigress, FOUR PAWS has written several complaints to the authorities regarding her arrival and keeping conditions. Despite that the conditions in the zoo do not meet the necessary minimum standards, the zoo currently has a valid license – this means that we cannot simply seize or rescue the tigress.

A lion suffering in a cruel cage in a zoo in Bulgaria!

November 2020

A lion suffering in a cruel cage in a zoo in Bulgaria!

A cage of 30 square meters with a low ceiling, a concrete floor and no enrichment at all. This has been the home of the lion in Kyustendil zoo for many years. The cage he is kept in is far too small according to Bulgarian legislation. Because of these cruel conditions the facility lost its license to operate nine years ago. However, it is still open for visitors today and continues to keep animals!

Since the zoo lost its license, several animals have tragically and mysteriously disappeared, including a lioness, two tigers and a bear. According to information we received through freedom of information requests, there were two tigers kept at this zoo at the beginning of 2018. However, during an inspection mid-2018, the authorities recorded only one tiger. When we visited the zoo during our investigation this year, we also could not find the bear. It is unclear what happened to these animals. Despite the many signals and the inspections in place, the conditions have not improved for the Kyustendil lion and the other animals that are still in the zoo. As the municipality that owns the facility has had a plan for its reconstruction for many years now, officials have been promising to move the lion into a better enclosure and to even perform a full reconstruction. Unfortunately, this has not happened and the Kyustendil lion continues to live this way. To help the lion, a strong will for urgent actions is needed from both the control authorities and the municipality, and we cannot simply rescue this lion.

Lonely lion Lyubo

November 2020

The sad story of the lonely lion Lyubo in the Knezha zoo in Bulgaria!

Eight years ago, a lion was moved to a zoo in the town of Knezha in Northern Bulgaria. He came from Razgrad zoo where he had been used for breeding and was kept in a very small cage after his cubs were born. An old bear cage became his long-term home at the Knezha zoo. Today he continues his lonely existence at Knezha zoo in a cage that lacks the necessary enrichment. The outdoor area is less than 38 square meters in size and offers just a concrete floor, a couple of pieces of wood and a hanging tire to play with. Unfortunately, this is very common in Bulgarian zoos.There are more than 20 lions in Bulgaria, of which many are kept in unsuitable conditions in zoos.

The lion cubs, Simba and Kossara

October 2020

The lion cubs, Simba and Kossara were born in cruel conditions in Zoo Blagoevgrad in July this year. However, their sad story began much earlier.
In 2014, four lion cubs were born in Zoo Varna in Bulgaria. One of the cubs died soon after it was born and was immediately forgotten. Тhe three other cubs were raised in the zoo and received a lot of attention while growing up. They were given the names Florentina, the Little Prince and Boyko. When the three lions became fully grown, they were moved to other zoos that didn't have species-appropriate enclosures. Boyko left to another zoo first. Then it was the turn of Florentina to go to the zoo in Blagoevgrad in 2017. Her brother, the Little Prince, joined her a year later. This resulted in the birth of the two recent lion cubs, Simba and Kossara. The zoo complies with very few of the criteria necessary to receive a license. Despite that, the Zoo Blagoevgrad and many other zoos were awarded licenses.

Note: Any advertisements that may appear during the viewing of this video are unrelated to FOUR PAWS. We assume no liability for this content.

September 2020

Launch of petition against the legalisation of zoos tin Bulgaria that do not comply with the EU Zoo Directive.

Lion cubs in poor condition

July 2020

FOUR PAWS is alerted about two reportedly inbred lion cubs in poor condition, born in the zoo of Blagoevgrad on July 3rd. Thanks to public mobilization, the cubs are moved to a veterinary clinic. Unfortunately, there is no suitable place to house them long-term. FOUR PAWS offers to take the cubs to FELIDA but the municipality owning the zoo in which the cubs were born does not accept this offer.

Bear Vesko at DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa

November 2019

Brown bear Vesko is being transferred by FOUR PAWS from Zoo Sofia to DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa. Born in 2010, Vesko was a victim of uncontrolled breeding. In 2011, Zoo Sofia got Vesko from Zoo Varna, who wasn’t able to provide enough space and species-appropriate living conditions. In Zoo Sofia there was also not sufficient space for Vesko, therefore FOUR PAWS offered a forever home for him. Read his story here!

Lion Ivan-Asen at FELIDA

March 2018

Ivan-Asen, born at Razgrad Zoo in 2014 and uncle of Terez, arrives at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in The Netherlands. He was found malnourished, dehydrated, emaciated and very anxious and there was no space for him in Bulgaria. Ivan-Asen is the result of inbreeding, causing very serious health issues. He has found a forever home here, where he will receive live-long special care. As a result of FOUR PAWS efforts, only two lions were left in Razgrad zoo, Lubo and Eva.

Lions Terez and Masoud at FELIDA

February 2018

Lion Terez arrives together with his brother Masoud, at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in The Netherlands. They were born in September 2017 at Razgrad Zoo and were abandoned by their mother. They are the result of multiple generations of inbreeding, with their parents as well as their grandparents being siblings. This has resulted in many health issues, including neurological problems affecting their walking capabilities. These health issues were causing Masoud severe pain, which could not be improved/treated anymore. We unfortunately had to say our final farewell to Masoud at the end of July 2020. Terez will continue to receive special care for the rest of his life

Lions Raya and Hector from Razgrad Zoo

December 2017

With the help of FOUR PAWS, the lions Raya and Hector from Razgrad Zoo are relocated to the Zoo Sofia where pregnant lioness Raya can give birth in a safe environment and under veterinary control. A few months later the two lions are relocated to the Zoo Pazardzhik.

FOUR PAWS visits Razgrad Zoo

November 2017

FOUR PAWS visits Razgrad Zoo to conduct vet checks on their four lions, two males and two females. To prevent them from breeding, FOUR PAWS vasectomizes the two males. During this vet check, FOUR PAWS also finds lion Ivan-Asen, who is malnourished, dehydrated, emaciated and very anxious. He is the result of uncontrolled inbreeding and spent a significant time of his life in a dark, concrete cage full of his own faeces.

Tigress Varvara at TIERART

September 2015

FOUR PAWS rescues tigress Varvara from a circus wagon in which she was kept since Bulgaria banned wild animals in circuses in January 2015. FOUR PAWS brings her to TIERART Big Cat Centre in Germany. Varvara is the last circus tiger that had to be rescued from Bulgaria.

Bear Standy to DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa

June 2015

After several years of efforts and negotiations, FOUR PAWS finally rescues the two bears Boyka and Standy that are kept illegally in 'Nikolovo Mini-Zoo Lipnik' near Ruse, and transfers the bears to DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, which is run in cooperation with Fondation Brigitte Bardot. Following this action the 'Nikolovo Mini-Zoo Lipnik' was closed for good.

Bears in Bulgaria

March 2015

Upon request of the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and in order to support the Zoo 'Kaylaka' in Pleven with renovation and improvement of its bear enclosure, FOUR PAWS transports the three young brown bears Victoria, Miladin and Kostadin from Pleven to Zoo Dobrich. Victoria and Miladin were transferred back to Pleven after construction works were finished, while male bear Kostadin stays in Zoo Dobrich. Miladin and Kostadin were vasectomized.


July 2014

The two brown bears Nasko and Gabriela that were kept in unsuitable conditions in Zoo Plovdiv are rescued and become residents of the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa which is being run in cooperation by FOUR PAWS and Fondation Brigitte Bardot.

June 2011

FOUR PAWS provides medical help for the two bears Boyka and Standy in 'Nikolovo Mini-Zoo Lipnik' near Ruse. The bear Boyka was transferred for an operation to the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa and returned to the zoo where the two bears are being kept in a small concrete enclosure under appalling keeping conditions. Within following years, FOUR PAWS fights for the rescue and relocation of the two bears to a more species-appropriate place.

February 2011

FOUR PAWS rescues 17-year-old lioness Bagira and 8-year-old tiger Martin, both born in Bulgarian zoos, and transports them to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa where they spent their final years in species-appropriate conditions.

November 2010

After receiving information about the bad condition of lioness Bagira in the Zoo of Pavlikeni, FOUR PAWS launches a first aid mission. She is suffering from health problems due to improper feeding and environment. Shortly after the medical help provided by FOUR PAWS, Bagiras’ condition is gradually improving, and the wounds are healing.

October 2010

FOUR PAWS rescues two lionesses, Lea and Simona, that were kept in private keeping. This was a positive result of Bulgaria passing its first animal welfare legislation in 2008, making private keeping of big cats illegal. Simona was rescued from a private keeping situation at a hotel and Lea was handed over by a local businessman as a cub. Both lions are brought to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.

September 2009

FOUR PAWS supports the confiscation and relocation of the brown bear Vasko kept in horrendous conditions in Zoo Haskovo, the bear was later shipped to Zoo Pavlikeni.

September 2007

FOUR PAWS rescues the bear 'Lady M' from Zoo Shumen. After this rescue, no more bears are kept at this zoo. Lady M was brought to DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, a bear sanctuary in Bulgaria which is being run by FOUR PAWS in cooperation with Fondation Brigitte Bardot, here Lady M is still enjoying her life. Being more than 40 years old she is one of the oldest bears that is currently living under our care.

Lions paw

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