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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Special Report: Sea lion in Ayia Napa

Sea lion at Ayia Napa (top) and healthy sea lion (below)International Animal Rescue (IAR) and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) have mounted a joint rescue operation to save the life of a Sea Lion in captivity in Cyprus.

The appalling condition of the Sea Lion in the Ayia Napa Marine Park (above) is made obvious from comparisons made with the healthy Sea Lion shown below.

The Ayia Napa Marine Park imported 4 Dolphins and Two Sea Lions about 6 or 7 years ago. Since then the conditions in the park have been allowed to deteriorate by the owners and this has resulted in the death of all four Dolphins. The two remaining Sea Lions were being kept alone in appalling conditions in the deserted marine park.

BDMLR vet James Barnett has been writing to the Director of Veterinary services Dr Economides since 14th May this year and had been assured that his vets were constantly checking the animals and that they were in good condition.

On the 2nd Sept one of the Sea Lions died! BDMLR asked why the animal died if the Vets were looking after it, but received little help from the Veterinary department. IAR were asked to help and on Friday 8th Oct Alan Knight, Operations Director of IAR, James Barnett BDMLR Vet and David Higgs of the Environmental Press Agency flew out to Cyprus to mount a rescue operation to save the Sea Lion.

IAR and BDMLR had been working closely with the local animal welfare groups in Cyprus these included the Green Party, Arc and the CSPSA and it was felt that the Government vets needed to explain this appalling situation. On Saturday 9th Oct we had a meeting with the Head of the Veterinary service Dr Economides. He explained the history of the marine park and explained that his department had done everything in their power to make sure the animals were in perfect condition. Alan Knight suggested that "the operation was a total success but the patients died".

Dying sea lion at Ayia Napa Marine ParkJames Barnett asked for autopsy reports on the dead animals as he had heard that one Dolphin had drowned by getting its head trapped between the pool liner and the pool wall. Dr Economides explained that no autopsies were carried out and that he did not have the power to force the owner to carry out autopsies. James Barnett did not accept this as an excuse.

We asked for permission to go directly to the Marine Park to inspect the animal and were told that we could not do this. We were told by Dr Ecomomides to contact the owner of the Marine Park and ask for permission. We used our local contacts to find out who owned the Park and phoned the home of Kikis Constantinou. We were unable to talk to him at home or in his office We went to the Marine Park to see if we could see the animal over the fence. We found that the animal was being kept in a small pen to the left of the entrance and the person who was looking after the animal did not allow us in. We tried to climb on top of the enclosure to see the animal and were told by the irate caretaker that he would call the Police if we did not leave.

Alan Knight decided that enough was enough and called the Police himself. When they arrived he explained the situation to the Officers and they allowed us to climb on top of the wall to get our first look at the animal.

We were all disgusted at what we witnessed. The animal was reduced to a bag of bones. We were unable to confirm if it was a Steller or a Southern Sea Lion as its coat was in such bad condition and the whole shape of the animal had changed. This looked like an Animal Belsen. We immediately contacted Dr Economides and told him that we were looking at the animal and it was close to death. He asked us for a report. James Barnett produced a report that afternoon and sent it by taxi to Dr Economides.

The next morning we called a press conference outside the Marine Park and told the assembled journalists what we had found. Dr Economides explained to them over the phone and on the radio that he now had two reports, one from his own vets and one from a so called expert from the UK who he did not even accept was a vet! He agreed to send a vet to the site. This vet arrived and agreed the animal was in a critical condition due to malnourishment. James Barnett had to return home on Sunday evening and Alan Knight and David Higgs continued the fight.

On Monday morning Alan Knight contacted a visiting UK MP Mr Roger Gale and his wife Suzy. Alan explained to Mr Gale the problem and gave him our vet’s report and a picture of the animal. Mr Gale explained that he had meetings with the both the Minister of Agriculture and the President that day and promised to bring up the Sea Lion. After the meeting with Roger Gale Alan Knight phoned Dr Economides and asked to visit the Marine Park once again. This time he agreed to send three vets to the Park and invited David Higgs and Alan Knight to join them.

We arrived at the park and had to wait half an hour to be allowed in. Once in we were able to get a closer look at the animal and all of the vets now agreed that the animal was in a terrible state.

Alan Knight asked to see the fish they were feeding the animal and was shown a freezer with out of date white fish fillets (Species unknown) and a few boxes of squid. Samples of the fish were taken to determine the fat content but it was known that squid is very low. Also the fillets and the squid would not have given the animal any calcium. He also asked to see the feeding records and was shown a small piece of paper stating that Mackerel should be fed to the animal (this is a high fat fish). When asked how many kilos of fish were fed a day it was obvious that the caretaker had not been provided with scales to weigh the fish. The feeding sheet stated 6 + 6 in the morning and 5 + 5 in the afternoon. Alan Knight asked if this was Kilos and was told "no fish" and this was the feeding sheet for two Sea Lions!

It was therefore proved that the animal was being fed the wrong type of fish in such small quantities that the animal would die unless a new regime was established.

On Monday evening Alan Knight prepared a scientific report for Dr Ecomomides detailing the joint IAR/BDMLR rescue plan. This included:

  • A formal letter to Dr Ecomomides to confiscate the animal and hand it over to our team to start the rehabilitation of the animal
  • A correct feeding regime
  • A plan to convert an existing shark pool at the nearby Ocean Aquarium in Protaras to provide a safe temporary home for the animal while it recovers from its ordeal

On Tuesday morning Alan Knight and David Higgs visited the owners of the Ocean Aquarium and discussed a draft legal agreement for them to house the animal for a limited period. The owners agreed to all of our demands and have stated that it would take them three days to complete the conversion of the pool to our design. The pool has sufficient filters to keep the water crystal clear, a cooling system to reduce the temperature of the water and a salt water plant to provide the correct level of salt water and a computerised water quality system to monitor pH, temperature and all of the other parameters.

IAR and BDMLR are very happy with this facility and are convinced that they can save this animal.

On Tuesday morning the rescue package was delivered to Dr. Economides and the problem was firmly handed back to him. IAR and BDMLR now await the rusty wheels of Government to turn so that the animal can be confiscated and handed over to us.