By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Romania's lions face a death sentence as the country's neglected zoos lose the battle to implement European Union regulations aimed at animal welfare.
Government inspectors have already condemned three lions in Bahusi zoo, in Eastern Romania, to death by lethal injection and campaigners estimate that hundreds of animals in up to 20 zoos are at risk.
A BBC investigation has found that deformed, aged or sick animals are to be killed as the cash-strapped authorities admit that many of Romania's 41 zoos, often burdened with the legacy of the Communist era, will fail to make the grade on EU Directives by a December 31 deadline.
Bahusi Zoo is one of the institutions so shocking that it has been closed to the public. Its remaining animals have been rejected by other zoos in other countries and face death.
Bahusi's three lions, scarred by their poor treatment throughout their lives, will be put down despite being only five to six years old.
The lions, Bella, Romani and Gypsi were rejected by foreign zoos because they bear the scars of mistreatment and confined cages.
"In a better equipped zoo, they could live to 20," said Monica Minciu of the Romanian Alliance for the Protection of Animals.
"The problem is what to do with all these animals once this and other zoos close. Unless funds are not found quickly or a home for the animals is found in Romania, the most probable thing which will happen with these animals is that they will be put down."
Mihaita Afrenie, the manager of Timisoara zoo, in Western Romania, told the BBC that three lions there are to be "shot" because their cages are not big enough under EU rules
British Euro MP Robert Evans is pushing for a rescue plan to be coordinated between the EU and Romania before zoos are forced to close at the end of the year.
"The Romanians are really struggling to put this EU Directive into practice" he said.
"I think it's time that the rest of the EU took responsibility so that we can save the lives of animals, like the lions at Bahusi."
"The other 26 richer countrie of the EU have got to come to Romania's assistance, not just with money but technical assistance. This is not Romania's fault, they simply do not have the money."
The WSPA, a British animal rescue organisation, is working in Romania to save zoo bears that might be slaughtered or "sold to restaurants which hold them in tiny cages as tourist attractions".
"We're building a second bear enclosure now to take in around 15 bears that have to be rehomed from at least five zoos that are closing down due to the European Zoo Directive," said the WSPA's Victor Watkins.