Al-Qureshi park
Wildlife veterinarians from Four Paws International and other volunteers treat a malnourished lion inside its cage at the Al-Qureshi park in Khartoum, on January 28, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

Khartoum: Four lions in a rundown zoo in the capital of Sudan, wasting away from hunger, are undergoing lifesaving medical treatment from an international animal rescue organization.

The plight of the rail-thin lions in Al-Qurashi Park in Khartoum set off an outpouring of sympathy and donations from around the world. At least five lions, both male and female, once inhabited the zoo. One lioness died of starvation last week.

On Tuesday, veterinarians and wildlife experts from Vienna-based animal welfare group Four Paws International conducted medical checks at the park, which has fallen on hard times for lack of money and attention.

Amir Khalil, head of the Four Paws emergency mission, said he was "shocked" by the poor state of the lions, their cramped quarters and the park's general disarray.

"I don't understand why no one was given the task of feeding them or how authorities could just overlook this," he said, describing two of the remaining four as in critical condition, "dehydrated ... a third of their normal weight."

Four Paws faces a daunting task and its two-day trip has been dogged by challenges from the start. When the team arrived late Monday, customs agents confiscated most of their luggage and essential medicine, citing a lack of prior approval. The group says it's operating with just a fraction of its equipment, and scrambling to find local alternatives.

Although the group typically carries out rescue missions, it has no immediate plan to transport the animals in Al-Qurashi to better conditions abroad.

The head of the park, Bader el-Deen Wassim, was more optimistic. He said the recent flurry of international attention will allow authorities to "expand and renovate the park," and promised the lions' health was improving. He expects Sudanese authorities to release the group's medicine on Wednesday.

But it's unclear if even that will save the two sickest animals, a lion and a lioness.

"Their muscles are not even able to move," said Khalil. "I don't know how we'll be able to do injections."

The malnourished lions have become something of a symbol of the harsh effects of poverty in Sudan, where runaway price hikes marshaled a popular uprising that ousted longtime autocrat president Omar Al Bashir in April.

Sudan, now in a fraught transitional period, is struggling to recover from three decades of corruption, mismanagement and isolation under Al Bashir.

Al Bashir was convicted of corruption last month and sentenced to two years in a minimum security lock-up, where he awaits trial on separate charges over his role in the killing of protesters during the months before his ouster.

Stiff sanctions, a result of Sudan's place on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, has kept the transitional government in limbo, preventing it from seeking debt relief and badly needed foreign investment.

"To see a hungry animal like this, there is no connection to religion or politics," said Khalil. "It has to do with humanity."