Posted: 19 March 2015. Updated: 20 February 2017
Cholita the ‘real-life Paddington bear’ – who was abused at the circus and captured the world’s hearts – was rescued by Animal Defenders International during our Operation Spirit of Freedom mission in Peru. Elderly Cholita is barely recognisable as an endangered Spectacled bear because she is suffering from severe hair-loss. Where she should have thick, black fur she has none, leaving her almost completely bald.
Kept illegally by the circus, the Peru authorities confiscated Cholita and placed her in a zoo until she could be found a permanent home but, due to her condition and appearance, no home was found and there she remained for ten years. The scars of Cholita’s abusive past at the circus are clear to see – her fingers were brutally cut down to stumps and her teeth were broken, leaving her defenceless. She was also confined to a cage measuring just 5ftx5ft.
Watch her story to freedom:
In collaboration with Peru’s wildlife officials at SERFOR and ATFFS, Cholita was handed into ADI’s care on March 31, 2015 when a rescue and veterinary team collected her from the zoo near Piura in the northern desert region of Peru. As soon as she was loaded into her large travel cage she bounded towards the thick straw, rolling around before tucking into a bowl of fruit. The epic round-trip took more than two days and with our precious cargo we stopped every 2-3 hours to check Cholita was okay as we journeyed through the desert and mountain roads. (Lonely woolly monkey Nena was also picked up from the zoo too and relocated to Pilpintuwasi Wildlife Orphanage with new companions Fausto and Panchita.)
At the ADI Spirit of Freedom rescue center Cholita was placed under close observation to monitor her state of health. When she first arrived Cholita was frail, her breathing poor at times and she had diarrhoea, poor mobility, and was easily stressed. For the first time in her life, she was able to nest in deep straw and blankets, enjoy a natural, healthy diet (including grapes, her favorite!), and feel the benefits of a padded water bath to ease her painful joints. Her previously chronic diarrhoea also resolved. Although her respiratory problems remained, with 24 hour care she was fitter and happier than ever.
To find the perfect forever home for Cholita ADI travelled thousands of miles and all over Peru and as soon as we saw the environment at Taricaya Ecological Reserve we knew it was the one. The natural habitat for spectacled bears, the sanctuary is located on the edge of the Tambopata reserve in the Amazon Cloud Forest. With Cholita having spent most of her life at sea level, the slightly lower altitude also suits her. Thanks to an overwhelming response from our supporters and the public, a team from ADI, Taricaya and Projects Abroad volunteers started work on the lush, natural jungle habitat, complete with bathing pool and cave, that would be Cholita’s new home.
On September 2nd, 2015 Cholita was relocated in a marathon four-day journey over the Andes and along the Madre de Dios river. The ADI team began loading for the 1,000 mile journey at 2am and Cholita was joined by Mufasa the puma, James the macaw, woolly monkeys Rojas, Joan and Diego and spider monkeys Pepe-Lucho and Lily. As we made our way to Taricaya, Cholita and the other animals snuggled into blankets and thick straw beds in their travel crates, which were themselves covered with blankets and plastic to guard against the mountain cold. Due to Cholita’s breathing issues, the ADI team made an oxygen tent around her cage and as the convoy climbed to high altitudes, it was flooded with oxygen-rich air to ensure she felt no distress.
On arrival at Taricaya, Cholita found herself in the forest, hearing all the sounds she had not heard for a lifetime – since being snatched from the wild as a baby – and she took it all in, smelling the earth, touching the leaves and the trees.
Once settled in her new home the ADI veterinary team conducted a full medical examination and trimmed the overgrown claws on her rear feet. Cholita was hooked up to a constant oxygen supply and heart monitors while ADI vets worked quickly to perform blood tests, ultrasound scans, a dental check and full physical examination. Finally, Cholita’s nails were trimmed, buffed and oiled, experiencing the best manicure a bear can have!
Thanks to Cholita there is now a very special place for rescued spectacled bears in Peru and she was joined in December 2015 by Lucho and Sabina, removed by ADI from an illegal zoo that had held them for years after they were taken from a circus and a wildlife trafficker. On Valentine’s Day 2017, a fourth bear was relocated to Taricaya - her name is Dominga, and like Cholita, she has no hair.
Watch Cholita celebrate her first year in the forest: