Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The Bolivia animal circus ban and how four lions came to California

Posted: 26 May 2010. Updated: 15 October 2015

The arrival of the four lions – Camba, Simba, Dactari and Bambek – at San Francisco airport on May 27th and their release the following day at the ARK2000 sanctuary in Calaveras County the following day marks the culmination of a remarkable campaign in South America by Animal Defenders International (ADI).


The lions are the first animals to be relocated after Bolivia historically banned the use of all animals in circuses under Law 4040 in 2009 following a campaign by ADI.

In 2005, ADI field officers began gathering evidence undercover in circuses in South America, working in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Working undercover inside the circuses, often a great risk, the ADI team filmed horrific scenes of animal suffering and systematic abuse, which included animals being kicked, punched, beaten and even having rocks hurled at them.

In 2007, ADI launched the findings in a detailed report and the video Stop Circus Suffering with a series of press conferences in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and, later, Brazil. The series of exposés sent shock waves across the continent with a massive outpouring of public opposition to circus cruelty. In Bolivia, bans on animal circuses were first secured in the major cities of Santa Cruz, La Paz, El Alto and Cochabamba. These bans were put to the test when Las Vegas-based magic show, The Fercos Brothers, was prohibited from appearing with its lion and tiger act – the Fercos Brothers performed in Bolivia with no animals.

ADI moved to national legislation, drafting a proposal to ban wild animals under a Presidential Decree on biodiversity, but after a year of negotiations the proposal fell.

In August 2008, ADI began working with Congresswoman Ximena Flores, representative of the Department of Potosi, to table a bill banning all animals from circuses. In January, 2009, this was passed by the Commission of Sustainable Development in the Chamber of Deputies with only minor amendments. In the Plenary, the bill was approved unanimously. With a vote by the Senate required, ADI coordinated an intense lobbying campaign with a new scientific report and the Bolivian public took part in a postcard campaign to Senators. On May 14, 2009, the bill was debated and approved with some minor amendments, including allowing one year for implementation. On May 20th, the amendments made by the Senate were approved by the Chamber of Deputies

The law was sent to President Evo Morales for signing. On June 17th, 2009, the President signed Law 4040 into law.

Within months of the passage of the new law, Circo Abuhabda – a circus that had featured in the original investigation by ADI – confirmed it would be going animal-free as a result of the new law and handed five lions and a baboon to ADI.


ADI constructed a temporary quarantine facility in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to hold the animals whilst preparations were made to move them to a permanent home.

A state of the art new lion habitat has been built with ADI funding at the world-renowned ARK2000 sanctuary in California run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). ADI facilities have been built for the baboon at Lakeview Monkey Sanctuary in the UK. The baboon will be transferred there in the near future.

Tragically, Maiza an elderly lioness suffered an infection and the ADI project vet Dr Mel Richardson decided that it was necessary to euthanize her to prevent her from suffering.

ADI has already been notified by the Bolivian authorities of eight other lions requiring homes. ADI is committed to the successful implementation of the legislation. Further bans on the use of animals in circuses are awaiting votes in the Congresses of Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Chile, a testament to how the continent is turning its back on this archaic and cruel practice.

When the other lions finally walk free in California on Friday May 28th it will mark the completion of an incredibly complex rescue that has faced remarkable challenges.

© Animal Defenders International 2019