THREE lions rescued from a private zoo in Albania are travelling to their new home in the Netherlands.

The lions, who were being held at Tirana Zoo, were sedated ahead of their journey to the Felida Big Cat Centre.

Ioana Dungler, the project leader from international animal welfare group Four Paws, said experts put the lions in specially equipped vehicles and were driving the animals - named Lenci, Bobby and Zhaku - to the Netherlands.

"They are safe to travel," said vet Marc Goelkel.

The lions and eight other animals were removed from a private zoo in western Albania last October due to fears they were malnourished.

They had remained in cages at the public Tirana Zoo, which Four Paws also considered unfit, while authorities were in a legal dispute with their former owners. A Four Paws team has taken care of them during this time.

Ms Dungler said the lions were allowed to leave after other nations and animal groups put pressure on Albanian authorities.

She also thanked Tirana Zoo for offering a "temporary solution". She said otherwise, the whole rescue operation would not have been possible, but said they could not stay there permanently.

"If you see the conditions here, I don't think you need to be an expert to understand that this is not the way to keep wild animals," said Ms Dungler, noting that Tirana Zoo has small, cement-floor cages. "The sun, the good care of Felida and the grass will make a difference for them."

Albania's environment ministry, which has been overseeing the matter, said it had no comment on the transfer.

Albania has other wild animals that are being kept privately in unfit places and need "a completely different zoo profile" to live in, said Ms Dungler, urging Albanian authorities to cooperate on future animal transfers.

"We just need their commitment and the proper legislation," she said.

Four Paws is also assisting Albanian authorities in a feasibility study for an animal sanctuary near Tirana.