Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Operation Spirit of Freedom

Posted: 13 January 2015. Updated: 26 February 2018


Animal Defenders International has completed the biggest animal rescue of its kind, helping the authorities in Peru and Colombia implement legislation to end the use of wild animals in circuses. Over 100 animals who have all suffered terribly at the hands of humans have been rescued and with your help we can give them the bright future they deserve.

Our work on this issue in Peru and Colombia began back in 2007, when ADI launched its Stop Circus Suffering campaign across Latin America. The evidence from our two-year undercover investigation of animal circuses caused a public outcry and calls for action across the continent. Bolivia responded first, banning all animals in travelling circuses, followed by Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Colombia, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico who all introduced wild animal bans.


During our Operation Lion Ark rescue mission, ADI helped Bolivia enforce its legislation, swooping in on the illegal circuses and rescuing every single animal. We were therefore ready to assist Peru implement its ban but it has been our biggest and most challenging rescue yet. Over the past year our rescue team has traveled all over Peru to track down the circuses; built a temporary rescue center from scratch as well as jungle habitats for Cholita the bear, Mufasa the puma, monkeys and other native wild animals; provided logistical support to the authorities so the animals could be seized; and crossed the Andes five times during 35-hour journeys with our precious cargoes of animals.

People who made the rescue possible

Help care for the lions

Over 30 lions were rescued by ADI from circuses in Peru and Colombia. Nursed back to health at our temporary rescue centre, the lions were flown to a new life in Africa on a record-breaking cargo flight.
Make a donation to fund their care for life
Donate US $ / Donate UK £ (donate via Paypal or Euros here)

Help care for Cholita and friends!

Following an epic three-day journey over the Andes, covering 1,000 miles, Cholita the bear was relocated to a specially-built habitat at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve in the Amazon, where ADI funds her care. Cholita has since been joined by Lucho and Sabina who were rescued by ADI from an illegal zoo and Dominga, who is also nearly bald like Cholita, joined them on Valentine’s Day 2017. Cholita’s story
Donate US $ / Donate UK / Donate Paypal & Euros

Help care for our rescued monkeys!

In a logistically complex 15-hour operation the ADI team relocated 39 rescued monkeys, kinkajous and coati mundis to their forever homes at Pilpintuwasi sanctuary in the Amazon rainforest. Torn from their families and the wild, all were rescued from circuses or the illegal wildlife trade, and can now enjoy a life as close as possible to that previously denied them, with ADI continuing to fund their care. Please help with a donation today.
Donate US $ / Donate UK £ (donate via Paypal or Euros here)

Become an ADI Rescuer and help us care for our rescued animals and save others in need

ADI Rescuer US $ / ADI Rescuer UK £ / Donate Paypal & Euros


Kiara gets a CT scan!
Kiara, of the Leo & Muñeca family, was experiencing a constant discharge from her nose; she was taken to the state of the art clinic, of our veterinarian, Dr Caldwell in Pretoria, for a thorough examination and CT scan. Read more »

Epic lion rescue features on CBS 60 Minutes!
On Sunday, March 5, 7:00pm ET/PT – CBS 60 Minutes will air ADI’s dramatic rescue of 33 circus lions from Peru and Colombia back to their native Africa. Read more »

SAVED! Lonely zoo bear gets her storybook ending!
Dominga, a spectacled bear like Michael Bond’s Paddington, got a real Valentine’s Day treat, after an Andes trek to a forest sanctuary in Peru. Read her heartwarming story »

ADI prepare to relocate Dominga!
14-year-old spectacled bear Dominga lives all alone in a zoo in Peru. Through the stress of captivity, she has lost almost all of her hair. Help take Dominga home »

Help Rey and Simba take the final step to freedom.
They lived through hell and we went through hell and high water to save them, but this rescue is not over yet. See how you can help »

The Cusco family - home for Christmas!
It took two incredible ADI rescue missions in Cusco, Peru, involving armed SWAT teams and riot police, to rescue lions Rey, Kiara, Smith, Amazonas, Mahla and Scarc. Now they are home in the African bush. Watch the video »

Wildlife photographers support ADI lion rescue.
We are privileged to have the support of some incredible wildlife photographers donating pictures to raise funds for ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom. Read more »

Lions Rolex, Chino and Coco run free!
Our lively boy band bounded out into their natural bush habitat. Seeing them run and explore their forever home was extra special. Read more »

José and Liso’s big day!
Two very special lions are now in their very special home - thanks to you! Watch the video of their moving in day »

Building new lives for rescued lions!
Leo, his mate Muñeca, and their daughters Kiara and Africa, are the first lion family to stride into the specially built natural bush habitat. Watch the video now »

Family reunited
Leo, his mate Muneca, and daughters Africa and Kiara have been reunited in the African bush after they were torn apart by a travelling circus in South America. Read more

Bond of love
The moment ex-circus lion Leo, still groggy from anaesthetic after dental surgery, battles to reach his daughter Africa – showing the close family bonds in our lion prides. Watch the video

Tragic News – two of our rescued lions struck down by toxin
It is with great sadness that Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary and Animal Defenders International announce the passing away of Rapunzel and Kala, two of our 33 lions rescued from South American circuses. Read more

South American circus nightmare is over as 33 lions wake up to an African dawn
Rescued from appalling conditions in circuses in Peru and Colombia by ADI, our 33 lions cannot believe their eyes as they roar in their first sunrise in the African bush. Read more

Massive lion airlift scheduled for April 29th
Rescued by ADI, 33 lions, 24 from circuses in Peru and nine from Colombia, are heading back to their homeland after both countries banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Find out more

Hoover flown to forever home in Florida
After a lifetime of suffering in a Peruvian circus, Hoover the tiger was transported to his forever home at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Find out more

Saved! Now let’s get Hoover to his forever home in Florida!
Free from the circus, Hoover is safe and well, but the best is yet to come! Help us take him to his forever home. Find out more

Help send them home
ADI now has all the permits in place to fly the 33 lions home to their new life South Africa. Read more

Lucho and Sabina join Cholita
Spectacled bears Lucho and Sabina are safe in the Peruvian forest, next door to the magical Cholita, having successfully been removed from the illegal zoo that held them for years after they were taken from a circus and a wildlife trafficker. Read more

Unchained: Mufasa is returned to the forest
Mufasa, the last wild animal in a Peruvian circus, is cut from his chains and walks free after 20 years. Watch and share our video here

James Bond backs rescue!
Award-winning Bond actor Sir Roger Moore has launched a public appeal to help ADI fly our 33 lions home to Africa. Read more and donate

Help two more bears join Cholita in paradise
ADI has launched an emergency appeal to rescue two more spectacled bears called Lucho and Sabina. Find out how you can help!

Cholita the bear gets her storybook-ending!
Cholita the ‘real-life Paddington bear’ who won the world’s hearts after suffering abuse in the circus has been successfully returned to her native home! Images and further details here!

Lions rescued to go home to Africa!
The 33 lions rescued by ADI from circuses in Peru and Colombia during Operation Spirit of Freedom mission are going to their native home! At the end of October the lions will fly to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa to retire with the African sun on their backs in acres of pristine African bush. Help take them home!

Operation Spirit of Freedom Rescue, Peru and Colombia – Update
Our biggest circus rescue to date and ADI has saved over 80 animals in Peru and Colombia. Read more

More animals saved but circus gets away after chase
Over the past week the ADI Spirit of Freedom team has experienced the heartache and joy of a difficult enforcement operation. Read more

Spirit of Freedom lions to get new home
The 33 lions rescued by ADI in Peru and Colombia will not be re-homed to The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) in Colorado due to “changes in critical circumstances.” ADI has already begun the process of securing our perfect home for the lions and the Spirit of Freedom Flight will be re-routed accordingly. Read more

Our rescued animals go back to the jungle! Having saved 39 monkeys, kinkajous and coati mundis from circuses and the illegal wildlife trade across Peru during Operation Spirit of Freedom, it was time to take the animals back to the jungle! Watch our video and find out how you can help care for the animals

Tiger secures place on freedom flight after surprise circus raids
Hoover the tiger, Mufasa the mountain lion and Condorita the condor have been removed from two circuses as part of our mission to enforce Peru’s wild animal circus ban. Find out more

Help save Cholita!
In a tale reminiscent of “Paddington – the bear from darkest Peru” ADI rescued a bear in northern Peru called “Cholita.” Find out more

ADI raids circus saving lions and monkeys
With the Peruvian authorities, SERFOR and ATFFS, ADI has raided a circus in a desert area of northern Peru saving three lionesses and two monkeys. Read more

Denied his mother’s love Fausto finds companionship
Baby woolly monkey Fausto has finally found the companionship he desperately needs and craves after being saved from the illegal wildlife trade in Peru. Read more

Renowned vet dentist flies in to perform surgery on lions
Circus big cats often suffer in silent agony for years due to broken and infected teeth and many of our rescued lions have traumatic injuries, two of the most urgent cases of which Dr Peter Emily flew in from the US to repair. Read more

Pepe finds his Val-entine
Having been kept alone and chained by the neck for eight years in the circus, Pepe the spider monkey has finally been reunited with his own kind in the most moving chapter of his story so far. Watch when Pepe met Valerie

Christmas at the ADI rescue center
Our lions, monkeys and other animals eagerly open their presents and tuck into their festive treats. See the photos.

Bringing Operation Spirit of Freedom to the class room!
Children can ‘meet’ our rescued animals via special Q&A sessions with ADI President Jan Creamer and Vice President Tim Phillips from our rescue center in Peru. If you are a teacher and would like to organise a Skype session with your class please get in touch
Members of the ADI rescue team have also given a presentation to a local school, attended by over 100 parents and children.

Happy Thanksgiving from the ADI Rescue Center!
Watch our rescued lions having some fun playing with pumpkins!

TV legend Bob Barker funds ‘lion’s share’ of successful mission to save circus animals in Peru
Philanthropist and multi Emmy award-winning TV legend Bob Barker generously donates $500,000 to fund the ‘lion’s share’ of Operation Spirit of Freedom. Read more

History in the making - wild animals say goodbye to the circus in Peru!
ADI empties the last circus of its wild animals in Peru as part of its record-breaking rescue mission.Read more.

Huge rescue mission launched in Peru to save suffering circus animals
ADI to provide complete logistical support for the Peruvian authorities as they enforce rules to eliminate the suffering of wild animals in traveling circuses. Read more

© Animal Defenders International 2019