Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Dr. Mel Richardson 1950-2014

Posted: 3 January 2014. Updated: 6 January 2014


It is with profound sadness that we announce the death of Dr. Mel Richardson, a dear friend and colleague. Known to many as simply “Dr. Mel,” he was the overseeing veterinarian on several Animal Defenders International (ADI) rescues – including Operation Lion Ark – and also worked with us providing expert testimony for legal cases, hearings and the media.

Jan Creamer, President and founder of ADI says:

“We are devastated by the loss of one of the key members of our team. Dr. Mel Richardson has played a vital role in both our animal rescues and our work creating awareness about the treatment of animals. His practical veterinary skills, immense knowledge and articulate voice will be sorely missed.

“We worked together in some of the most difficult and high pressure circumstances and it was always a pleasure to be with him. Not just his obvious skills but his humor and good nature. We have also lost a great friend and colleague, someone who was at our side through both thick and thin. Farewell Dr. Mel and thank you.”

Dr. Mel Richardson died of heart failure at just 63.

Vastly experienced, with over 40 years working with captive wildlife, Mel had initially been employed by zoos and the captive wildlife industry before turning his back on that world and dedicating his life to saving and protecting animals.

In an incredibly poignant scene in the film Lion Ark, Mel noted tearfully: “What motivates me now, was all the 42 years I didn’t do anything and all the, the um, suffering that I’ve seen with captive wild animals. At least, thanks to ADI and thanks to others, I have an opportunity to make amends, that’s what motivates me.”

And motivated he was, using all of his knowledge and experience with captive wildlife to help end the suffering. As well as working with ADI he worked with PAWS, PETA and animal protectionists throughout the US becoming a hugely important voice for the voiceless.

Mel provided expert testimony for ADI to use in prosecutions of abusers and also for the media. Speaking at the US Congress when we launched the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, Mel said: “From a veterinary standpoint this is clear cut – traveling circuses are no place for wild animals. These animals are suffering and it must be stopped. I can say unequivocally that these animals suffer, and it is time for the US to move forward with other countries that are now taking action and restrict the use of wild animals in traveling circuses. If countries like Bolivia, Peru, Austria and others are banning the use of wild animals in circuses, surely the USA must ensure it is not left behind. This Bill is about progress.”

Always good-natured, calm, and experienced, he was a hugely important presence on ADI’s difficult and demanding rescues including Operation Lion Ark where all the animals were seized from eight different circuses and 25 lions were airlifted to the US.

The film Lion Ark captures Mel in action doing this work and is a reminder of the great person we have lost. Mel had even donated his own money to help make the film as a “Contributor Producer.” At the end of Lion Ark, Mel described the operation as “probably the proudest moment in my life.”

On operations, like that in Lion Ark, Mel would be working in the field with minimum resources and sometimes extremely sick animals but we always knew that the animals were in the safest hands possible. He also had to treat a range of species. During operations in Bolivia, in addition to 30 lions, there were horses, dogs, monkeys, a baboon, and even a deer!

He also worked tirelessly on these operations, training and guiding young veterinarians and veterinary students in countries like Bolivia. So he leaves behind this legacy, too.

Mel had suffered poor health for the past year. In October, he was unable to make the US premiere of Lion Ark at the Mill Valley Film Festival because he could not fly. He did, however, join us when the film was screened at the Sun & Sand Mississippi Film Festival, where Lion Ark won Best Documentary, in mid November.

He was determined to get healthy enough to be part of the operation ADI is planning in Peru this year, and in December was telling doctors and nurses “You need to get me fit to go and save animals in Peru.” Tragically it was not to be.

In memoriam

ADI and Lion Ark are setting up memorial pages for Dr. Mel Richardson. Please email any comments you would like included to

Mel Richardson in Lion Ark

Mel during filming of Lion Ark. He will be sadly missed.

Dr. Mel gives a lioness an injection during the first Bolivian rescue.

Mel and actress Jorja Fox give a lion a drink on arrival at San Francisco airport.

Mel next to a transporter full of lions that had been handed over to ADI by a circus.

Mel and Jan check the lions on the first Bolivian rescue airlift before Lion Ark.

Mel prepares to dart Tilin and cut off the chain around his neck.

Mel speaking at Congress during the launch of the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act.

© Animal Defenders International 2019