After years of negotiations, a group of wild animals abandoned in Catalonia are now on their way to start a new life in the United States.
Rioleón Safari Park in Albinyana, Catalonia, went bankrupt in 1991 and passed into public control, and has been heavily subsidised by Catalonia's government ever since.
Unsure what to do with the animals when the zoo was converted into a water park, the wild animals have uncomfortably co-existed alongside the water slides and amusement rides.
Now, 12 lions and four bears are on their way to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado for a whole new life on a different continent, the final group of animals from the old safari park to be rehomed.
The process has been far from simple and has involved years of negotiations on the part of Catalonia's Department of Agriculture, with the help of the Foundation for the Adoption, Sponsorship and Defence of Animals (FAADA).
"Because of the economic situation of the safari park the animals were living in terrible conditions," FAADA said in a statement released on the website on Wednesday.
"Lack of veterinary attention, poor diets and cages with little security," were just some of the problems the animals faced.
FAADA immediately got in touch with the Catalan government to offer their help in rehousing the animals, but their offer was met with silence until 2012, when, amidst an economic crisis ravaging Spain, the Catalan government finally accepted FAADA's offer to rehouse the animals, the organization revealed in a statement.
The operation to move the wild animals involved a ten hour flight on a specially adapted Lufthansa aeroplane, during which the lions and bears were supervised by a Spanish vet.
The Wild Animal sanctuary, where the animals are heading, has 720 acres of rolling grassland, where the lions and bears can roam freely. It already houses around 350 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other large carnivores, which visitors can observe from raised walkways around the sanctuary.
"Our extremely large habitats allow the animals to run free and play with others of their own species," the sanctuary says on its website.
After years in limbo, Catalonia's lions and bears will this week have a home to call their own.