A record-breaking animal rescue operation ended Thursday when 25 Bolivian circus lions touched down at Denver airport in route to their new life within an 80-acre sanctuary.
The humanitarian airlift, called Operation Lion Ark, began last year when the group Animal Defenders International (ADI) won their campaign to effectively shut down the animal circus industry in Bolivia.
A 2005 ADI undercover investigation exposed horrific abuse in circuses across South America. The question was, where could the lions go after their rescue.
Operation Lion Ark arranged for construction of a specially-built 80-acre enclosure at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. Up until now, all they have known is deplorable conditions, neglect and abuse. The cats, including three cubs, were nursed back to health before their long journey to the US.
At a ceremony in Colorado, Jan Creamer, ADI’s President, summed up the feelings of her entire team: “I am absolutely elated!”
“It’s a dream come true to have rescued these magnificent lions. They have suffered so much, but at last they will be free. I really can’t believe that this monumental rescue is finally over and we are now here on U.S. soil with all 25 lions safe.”
CSI celebrity Jorja Fox and TV presenter Bob Barker both offered substantial support to make the project possible. One of the rescued lion cubs was even named after Barker, who was at the airport to meet the three month old, ‘Bob’.
Ms. Creamer, along with ADI Vice President Tim Phillips, coordinated the seizure of 25 lions, some of which were extremely malnourished. In the last months they have been recovering at the ADI compound in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, under veterinary supervision, and the watchful eye of the police. Also rescued in the seizures were 6 monkeys, a coati mundi, a deer and horse, which were all relocated in Bolivia or returned to the wild.
The lions that lived their lives in tiny cages on the backs of trucks, will be reintroduced to the wilderness gradually. In preparation for the Lion Ark arrival, a huge indoor facility was constructed at The Wild Animal Sanctuary on almost 10 acres to acclimatize the lions before they are released into huge outdoor enclosures with lakes and rolling grassland – not unlike their natural habitat.. The lions, 14 males and 11 females, range in age from the 3 cubs to an elderly male aged 15.
Established by Pat Craig in 1980, the sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores. The site comprises 320 acres, sheltering more than 200 lions, tigers, bears, leopards, mountain lions, wolves and other large carnivores.
ADI has made the commitment to fund the care of these animals for the rest of their lives, and there will be ongoing costs for years to come. They call on animal lovers to help by making a donation. Adopters will receive a certificate, DVD, regular updates on the animals in newsletters and other offers. For more information visit Animal Defenders International.
The Bolivian experience was the first time in history that an animal protection group and a government worked so closely and systematically to eradicate animal suffering.
“Bolivia has set a shining example to the world,” says Creamer. “We now encourage other government’s to stand up and act to do the right thing for animals currently languishing in circuses throughout the world.”
WATCH the ADI video showing rescue efforts…