Varhelyi and Viola Von Cramon tackle the issue of the illegally kept lion in Gnjilane

Lav u Gnjilanu
FOTO: Fondacija za zaštitu životinja

The wellbeing of a lion kept illegally in a restaurant in Gnjilane/ Gjilan, then transferred to the Crni vrh resort in the Shara mountains, is currently being considered by the European Commission. This decision was reached after Viola von Cramon raised the issue with this institution and Oliver Varhelyi responded on behalf of the EC.

In November last year, animal lovers and the public were greatly disturbed after a photo showing an exhausted lion locked up in a tiny cage emerged. The illegally kept lion was discovered in November of 2019 in a resort in Gnjilane after the lion was most likely smuggled into Kosovo.

On November 8th, 2020, the Kosovo Animal Rights Foundation recalled the inhumane conditions the lion had been living in for a whole year.

The efforts of animal protection associations and activists in ensuring that the lion is adequately cared for led to the animal being transferred to a resort in the Shara mountains and placed in a small space that was adapted as a temporary solution.

Judging by the criticism by animal protection activists, there were no permanent solutions from the competent Kosovo Ministry of Economy and Environment or other institutions.

It seems that the situation can now finally move from the standstill where it has remained for some time.

European Parliament Rapporteur for Kosovo, Viola von Cramon raised the issue with the European Commission on November 13th. She explained that the lion was brought into Kosovo without the permission of the Kosovo Customs Authorities or the Kosovo Food and Veterinary Agency and that it is still being kept in the resort, within an enclosure made out of metal fences, which were funded by the EU.

Von Cramon underlined that a solution has still not been found and that the funding for the lion’s transfer into the resort in the Shara mountains was obtained as part of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) Cross-border Cooperation Programme between Kosovo and North Macedonia. She also posted the following questions:

  • Does the Commission agree that public funds should not be used to finance projects related to illegal wild animal trade and keeping?
  • Does it agree that this type of funding contradicts the EU’s commitment to combating illegal wildlife trade?
  • Will the EU cooperate with the Kosovo authorities to find a long-term solution to end the illegal keeping of the lion at the Maja e Zeze Resort and to prevent the illegal trade and keeping of other wild animals in Kosovo in the future?”

On January 14th, she received a reply from the Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi.

“The Commission is committed to fighting illegal wildlife trafficking and attaches importance to animal welfare. EU funds should not be used to finance projects that involve the illegal trafficking or keeping of wild animals. In the case to which the Honourable Member refers, EU funds were provided to this resort for fencing small animal enclosures. No mention of a lion was included in the grant application. The European Union Office in Kosovo will follow up with the authorities about their efforts to find a long-term solution for the relocation of the lion,” reads Varhelyi’s response.

The Kosovo Animal Rights Foundation also reacted in a Facebook post. The foundation expressed satisfaction over the involvement of the EC, but disappointment as well due to local institutions’ „serious lack of commitment in finding solutions“, which ultimately led to the involvement of the EC.

“We hope that with the commitment of the EC and the EU in Kosovo, the lion will be released as soon as possible and sent to one of the ‘Four Paws’ rescue centers in Europe.”

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