Three lions and a bear are among 11 wild animals rescued from “shocking” conditions at a private zoo in Albania.

Branded “Europe’s worst zoo”, authorities feared the animals were malnourished, while veterinarians said a number of them had injuries.

Images shared widely on Facebook of an emaciated lion with an infected eye called "Lenci" prompted widespread outrage.

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A number of the rescued animals suffered from infected wounds and the bear – named "Dushi" – only had three legs, the animal charity animal welfare charity Four Paws said.

Police and conservation workers pried open the main gate at the Safari Zoo Park in Mbrostar, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital, Tirana.

The zoo had previously been closed by owners following criticism of the treatment of its animals.

Four Paws veterinarians sedated 12 animals — three lions, a bear, a waterbuck, four deer, a fox, a zebra and a turtle — and transported them to Tirana’s public zoo. 

Lion devours wild heron in front of shocked visitors, after bird landed in zoo

Yet shortly after it arrived, the zebra died, the charity said.

Four Paws spokesman Martin Bauer said it will try to relocate the animals to sanctuaries, including a big cat centre in the Netherlands and bear sanctuary in Germany.

They will also work on solutions to take the remaining animals to other places, but only after the animals regain their strength at Tirana zoo park, which may take weeks. 

Albania’s environment and tourism ministry said it confiscated the animals because their living quarters were too cramped and some were sick. 

Four Paws veterinarian Marc Gölkel said: “What we saw was shocking: dirty little concrete enclosures with desolate animals inside. The animals are all in bad conditions.

“Lenci the lion suffers from a proliferation on the conjunctiva of his left eye that needs to be treated.

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Ioana Dungler, director of the wild animals department at Four Paws, said: “The three-legged female bear Dushi is very emaciated and has clear behavioural disorders.

“We are glad that we got these animals out of this rundown prison. A big thank you goes to the Albanian government that made this mission possible."

The owners of the zoo have denied the animals were sick or malnourished. Their lawyer, Elvis Sulejmani, said they had filled out all the necessary documentation for the animals, and complained that authorities illegally took possession of the animals without a court verdict.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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