Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Rescued lions freed: Five lions walk into Colorado sunshine

Posted: 23 May 2011. Updated: 16 April 2015


The lions rescued by Animal Defenders International (ADI) will be freed into the second of four massive natural enclosures being built on 80 acres at The Wild Animal Sanctuary near Denver, Colorado. The lions saved from three different circuses in Bolivia highlight another landmark in the rehabilitation of the lions which is to build the once abused lions back into family prides.

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For Tim Phillips, Vice President of ADI, it will be an especially moving moment as he led the team that removed two of the lions, Pancho and Temuco, from the circus on the very first day of seizure operations in Bolivia last November. That day, the lions were in a tiny rusting cage on wheels. Tomorrow they step out into acres of natural habitat.

During November and December, ADI and the Bolivian authorities raided eight circuses across Bolivia removing all animals to enforce a ban on animal circuses. In February, 25 lions were flown to Denver in the biggest ever airlift of its kind. A special biosphere was constructed with grass and trees for the lions to acclimatise to the change of climate from Bolivia.

The rescue is proving a huge landmark in the way an entire country saw the use of circus animals eradicated which was followed by a massive relocation of 25 lions to a sanctuary that established them into new family groups, and provided them with a life as close to nature as possible.

The first group of lions, a family of eight, was released to the outdoors four weeks ago and today five more lions – Pancho, Temuco, Chitara, Dalila, and Kenya - step into freedom.

Tim Phillips said “Pancho, Temuco, Chitara, and Dalila were rescued on the first day of seizures in Bolivia. We raided three circuses in different parts of the country ensuring an element of surprise. But as we were heading to pick up Pancho and Temuco, the circus learned we were on the way and tried to make a run for it. The police blocked the road and impounded the animals. I checked out and fed these lions in a police compound surrounded by car wrecks.
“In Santa Cruz I saw them gradually getting stronger and flew with them, and all the other lions, to Denver during Operation Lion Ark. Seeing them finally roam free is a wonderful thing.”

Executive Director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Pat Craig said, “We are really looking forward to seeing this new pride of lions being released into their new habitat. They have made amazing strides in their recovery, and being able to see these Lions running freely, outside of their dreams, for the first time in their lives will be incredible!”

The latest step in this remarkable rescue is another testament to the huge scale of the achievement. Enormous facilities were constructed at TWAS in record breaking time, and the lions have continued the recuperation that started in the ADI field station in Bolivia. The Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation (PEIVDF) has undertaken life saving veterinary work on several of the lions. Today, the lions are stronger than ever.

“By the end of June, all of the lions will be free in their enclosures which cover 80 acres. The Operation Lion Ark search and seizure operation set a landmark for animal protection law enforcement. The airlift of the lions to Colorado broke the record all records for moving lions. And new ground is being set in terms of rehabilitating and caring for lions. Within six months, some of these lions have gone from living in complete isolation in a stinking cage, being beaten and abused, to roaming the Colorado countryside in prides just as they would in the wild,” added Phillips.

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