Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Operation Spirit of Freedom: A message from Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips, writing from Peru

Posted: 27 June 2015. Updated: 27 June 2015

Our thanks for all of the positive comments and support following the announcement of the change of destination for the lions; your support is very much appreciated at this time. We understand there can be frustration with lengthy rescue operations; even now, more animals in need of rescue are being discovered. We must go after them, as that is the nature of the task.

The animals ARE rescued and ARE being rehomed:

It is important to say at the outset that a change of destination for the lions does not mean that the rescue is not happening – it is simply that, a change of destination.

It may be difficult for people to understand all that is involved in a very complex rescue like this where the animals are taken from the circuses, and brought over many miles and often rough terrain to the ADI Spirit of Freedom temporary rescue center where their health and behavioral issues are addressed in an atmosphere of love, care and kindness, while we complete export and import documentation and coordinate transport arrangements. Our aim at the ADI temporary rescue centers is to have our precious charges well on their way to optimum health by the time they move to their forever home.

That is why we arrange for surgeries and dental work within the rescue center’s veterinary surgical center; our full time wildlife veterinary team is comprised of 1-2 rescue center veterinarians working each day and two consultants on call 7 days a week. Detailed reports on each animal are recorded daily and weekly reports produced for discussion about any action needed. We have repeatedly thanked all of the organizations who have helped us with these animals – those in Peru, the US and elsewhere.

ADI’s part in these rescues can be rather like the hidden part of an iceberg – a decade of work on undercover investigations to expose the suffering (costs running to $150,000 per year); years of campaigning for laws to protect animals (up to $100,000 a year) and once laws are passed, helping governments to enforce the new laws and rescue the animals. A great joy for us during the seizures to remove the animals is that we so often meet animals we have long known through our investigations; we feel we have not let them down because we kept going until we won their freedom.

So there is a lot more to these rescues than the day the animals arrive at their forever home! Saying that does not downplay any of the good sanctuary work for animals that everyone does, just that what we do is different – and essential to getting the animals away from harm in the first place. Our rescues aim to change whole countries and end circus suffering for good.

The reason for the joint statement

ADI agreed to a joint statement with TWAS because we don’t think any good is served for the animals by going into detail about the reasons that we no longer considered the arrangement was the best option for our rescue. We prefer to keep our focus on the task in hand right now (and this is being written in the back of a van as we are chasing after a circus that has just crossed the border into Ecuador - which also has a circus animal ban).

However, in light of comments and questions from supporters of both groups on ADI’s Facebook page and elsewhere, and leaks to the media, here’s our perspective on things which have already appeared:

In late March, TWAS accused ADI of not promoting them enough, yet ADI has extensively promoted the sanctuary (much more than they have promoted ADI). We provided TWAS with our Facebook data showing that over a four-year period ADI had mentioned TWAS 109 times (TWAS mentioned ADI just 4 times during the same period). All but a handful of the Operation Spirit of Freedom press releases mentioned TWAS. Not all, because not all of the Spirit of Freedom animals were going to TWAS. Only ADI is involved in the rescue in Latin America and the rehoming of all of the animals in Spirit of Freedom. This ended with TWAS telling ADI that we would not be allowed in the sanctuary (the claim about it being about watermarks and filming which have since been repeated in the media, was added later).

We also featured TWAS hugely in ADI’s independently made movie Lion Ark and at the screenings, we handed out their contact details. We are surprised by recent comments in social media implying that TWAS did not consider this publicity via Lion Ark to be adequate – most organizations would be delighted at this free promotion. Indeed, just last year TWAS requested a copy of Lion Ark to show at their own fundraiser, which seems to contradict what is being said now.

Lion Ark is an independently made movie, funded solely by ADI and our key donors. It is the story of the animal circus campaign in Latin America, seen through the eyes of one group of rescued lions and the people rescuing them. We paid for the filming, editing and production and wrote, directed and produced. The film is to educate the public on the suffering of animals in circuses, but with an empowering theme to stir people to action. It begins with the investigations we undertook in Latin America, securing the laws, the rescue mission, and has the happy ending of the animals arriving at TWAS. There was much of ADI’s work that couldn’t fit in from the huge Bolivia rescue, not least all of the horses and other animals we rescued, the lions ADI took to PAWS in California, or Tilin the baboon rehomed at Lakeview in the UK, but it does give an insight into the first ever operation to eliminate animals in circuses in an entire country. Audiences have been commenting after the movie that they would never go to the animal circus again.

TWAS then launched a “perulions” website using ADI’s videos, photographs and information, but we were shocked to see that ADI’s name had been deliberately removed. The inference of the whole site was that TWAS was doing the work that ADI is doing and this inference has been repeated in the media. Some of the remarks made on this site were also passed to officials in Peru and ADI became the subject of their wrath, due to our connection with TWAS.

Unfortunately, in just the past weeks, TWAS imposed a series of new and unexpected conditions on ADI. This came after we had rescued over 30 lions, arranged for export/import documentation, built travel crates and secured (signed the contract for) the flight. The most serious of these restrictions was that ADI would not be allowed onto the Sanctuary when we landed with the animals at Denver (or thereafter). We would not be allowed to see the animals into their new homes (which we have not seen) and there would be no handover of caregivers or veterinary teams to ensure the welfare of each and every one of our rescues.

As a responsible rescuer, ADI does not just leave animals at airports to be collected. When ADI makes standards of care and welfare guarantees to the governments with whom we work, we take that promise very seriously.

ADI does not believe that this, or the other last-minute conditions were in the best interests of the animals, or indeed of future rescues. After a series of emails and letters (we asked to speak, but this was refused) one of the conditions that we were presented with was that one ADI representative (plus one cameraman) might be allowed onto the premises to see our rescued animals if ADI handed over to TWAS ownership interest in all of our published and unpublished footage from Bolivia and Peru – which would include the film Lion Ark. This demand represented over ten years of work – our investigations in Latin America and our creative endeavors in the form of finished films to educate the public and legislators.

Why ADI’s filming, campaigns and education is important

ADI’s mission is to investigate, research, campaign and educate about animal suffering. These works are the main tools we use to expose the suffering and to campaign for animal protection laws. It is also the main window to what ADI does and what we believe and why others should change their views of animals. We felt it was an unreasonable demand and also, that it was wrong to put a different organization’s name on our work.

By way of illustration to help people understand, this request was as if ADI walked onto the sanctuary and demanded all the land. These materials are the core of our organization’s work – our evidence, research, reports, publications, footage and photos.

As a compromise we proposed sharing key material but this was rejected. Nor did we believe it was appropriate that only one rescue team member might be allowed in whilst others, who had put themselves on the line to save these animals and cared for them, would be refused access.

Let’s be clear about this – this was the first time that TWAS had ever shown any interest in any of our work and if they had asked, we would have been pleased to provide footage to show at the Sanctuary.

During that period we felt additional pressure was applied when certain public statements were made which were unjust and damaging to ADI. For example, the misleading statement that “Cholita will NOT be rescued” was made after we notified TWAS that following two months of observing and caring for Cholita, our veterinary team had advised that putting her on an international flight would be a risk to her health. ADI had been advising TWAS (via email(s)) of Cholita’s health issues since we first took her in. Cholita has breathing issues. We could not live with that risk – if anything happened to her, we would never forgive ourselves. And the fact is, that Cholita had already been rescued by ADI on March 31, arriving at Spirit of Freedom on April 1. As with many of these misleading statements that have damaged ADI, it was all in the inference.

Stirring up supporters to complain to ADI about our decision to keep her in her native Peru and build her a home with another Spectacled bear who is in a similar position, we felt was selfish and unhelpful; it could have annoyed authorities and thus jeopardized Cholita’s future. It is important to bear in mind that for ADI, building a new home for Cholita is another challenge, but is in the best interests of Cholita, as the majority of our supporters agreed. Disrupting and undermining these efforts was clearly not.

The fact that these demands were made by TWAS so late in the day put ADI in a very difficult position – we had rescued a very large number of animals, signed the contract for the flight and were very busy coordinating final flight/security/airport documentation details while making very difficult additional seizures. Had they been expressed at the outset, we would not have selected TWAS as the destination.

TWAS very recently raised another issue – that of TWAS being credited on television. Although we suggested that ADI and TWAS could credit each other on our own materials, the reality of the television industry is that we cannot dictate to broadcasters and TV producers what will be on screen. The production company, with the broadcaster, negotiates the shape, content and credits in TV shows. TWAS set a series pf impractical demands relating to size of credit, editorial control and more – all of which would have made it impossible to get a broadcaster to use any production created in that way. In terms of the ADI filming (which we pay for entirely ourselves), on March 31st, we proposed that we agree on ways to credit each other, but this was rejected.

We have offered to hand over certain footage (filmed for us at our expense) and to discuss different ways of crediting material; we have tried very hard to find common ground without success. We proposed solutions in March, April, May and June. Since TWAS refused to speak with us, all of this correspondence is on email.

Why ADI’s filming, research, publications and educational materials are important

ADI’s work conducting undercover investigations, producing films and videos, science and legal research, reports, briefings for legislators and educational materials is very different from the day to day running of a sanctuary. It is entirely different work. The only time ADI becomes involved in sanctuary work is when we set up a temporary rescue center to take animals seized from illegal circuses and other places of entertainment.

There have been some rather pious statements about our filming and how we get the issues of animal cruelty into the media, as if it is to do with some kind of self-promotion – nothing could be further from the truth. It is about exposing cruelty and calling people to action. People need to see what happens to animals behind the scenes.

It was ADI’s investigations and awareness campaigns that got the law that saved these animals. Creating awareness and reporting on these enforcement rescues is vital to ensuring they gain local support and lead to saving more animals – legislation to protect animals needs popular support! When Lion Ark was screened in Bolivia, members of Congress announced that a ban on zoos should be next. The filming and legal and scientific research that ADI uses can save many, many more animals than are actually being rescued – it is part of the mission.

The issues behind the decision

Although TWAS has expressed “surprise” in the media, negotiations to resolve this have been going on for three months and it is two weeks since the decision was made not to take the Spirit of Freedom animals there. These last two weeks have been spent trying to reach an amicable joint statement.

Ultimately, it was the issue of access to our animals that was not surmountable for ADI and we think that would be the case for most, if not everyone in our position. We cannot rescue animals and then be told we cannot see them into their homes (or possibly ever again) and pass on concerns or identify any problems from the flight. We have worked with sanctuaries all over the world and never had this kind of problem. However, this whole series of events led ADI to a complete lack of confidence in TWAS as a home for the animals – it was like dealing with a completely different organization from 2010 or even 2014.

Having said all this, it is important for supporters to realize that the Spirit of Freedom rescue continues, and the animals are moving to wonderful homes; we don’t want the current unpleasantness to spill over to the new homes. We are used to adapting our plans and working quickly to provide solutions to problems. So we are moving on and will announce as soon as the details are finalized.

What ADI does and what we spend

Some deeply offensive inferences have been made about what our fundraising does for animals. Just because the money cannot be seen in Colorado, used for land, fences, buildings, animal accommodation etc., that does not mean that what we do is not as important as the sanctuary work. Changing laws saves animals – forever. Both are necessary, but educating the public and legislators around the world to change the way animals are treated is vital. In answer to various questions about our pre-rescue costs (mentioned earlier) and the costs of the Spirit of Freedom rescue, we comment below.

Everything that has been donated to ADI for the Peru and Colombia rescues has been committed to those rescues.

Your donations are being spent on food, animal care, workers/volunteers and veterinary care for 35 large cats, 39 monkeys, coatis, kinkajous, a bear and Ted the tortoise (who was relocated to a sanctuary which does wild releases). Those animals who arrive at the ADI Spirit of Freedom Temporary Rescue Center who are aggressive, frightened and stressed get special love and attention so that they know that they will never, ever be beaten again. No matter what they do, they will be spoken to with kindness and love and given all the catnip toys and footballs necessary to keep them entertained and stimulated. The ADI Spirit of Freedom Temporary Rescue Center running costs are about $20,000 per month – so far the total is about $200,000 to care for the animals at our two rescue centers in Peru and Colombia.

Due to the temporary nature of our animal “MASH units” we cannot enjoy the economies of scale, or gifts from businesses, that benefit permanent sanctuaries. Our rescue centers are necessarily in remote and under-developed areas and so we have to provide basic accommodation for volunteers and workers. We have to pay for a good team of expert veterinarians and the veterinary care costs are much higher and more demanding because we are taking animals who are in a lot of trouble health-wise and need immediate attention. In an 8-month period, ADI Spirit of Freedom in Peru took in over 80 animals, all from extremely harsh former lives. Not many established sanctuaries would want to manage a huge influx of different species with different health and emotional and psychological problems over such a short space of time. Neither can ADI turn away animals; so whatever the species, solutions and accommodation must be found. By the time ADI hands the animals to sanctuaries they have had months of treatment, often including surgery, and a healthy vitamin and mineral supplemented diet.

These animals are safely in our care and being well looked after and we will continue to relocate them all to wonderful homes. We appreciate the disappointment of the TWAS supporters who wanted to see the animals in Colorado. However, there are many wonderful sanctuaries for wild animals and we should not denigrate other sanctuaries – ADI partners with sanctuaries in Africa, the UK, Latin America and the US. The important issue is to get the animals to a good home.

Whilst TWAS has many attributes, it is incorrect and disingenuous to claim this is the only option for the animals; there are other sanctuaries available that some might argue are a better fit. Of the many sanctuaries we have worked with each has an important role and it would be wrong to diminish this. The comments indicating TWAS is the only option are therefore not helpful to these or the many other animals needing homes.

Homing the Bolivian lions at TWAS was a challenge due to the weather, but we addressed this concern by giving TWAS over $300,000 for the building of the Lion House so that the Bolivian lions could get used to the climate and grow thicker coats and we followed up with a further $100,000 in animal care costs. Eventually TWAS said that they were geared to raising the ongoing care funds and no longer required ADI’s contributions. This freed up our money to save more animals.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the funds this time to build a Lion House. ADI is much smaller than people realize – just a $1-2 million a year organization dependent upon donations. It is only through the extraordinary generosity of Bob Barker, and all of our wonderful donors that we can complete this $1million rescue mission in Peru – every donor is important and integral to our mission. TWAS is about 7 or 8 times the size of ADI in terms of income.

Furthermore, we really do not think that ADI, a charity, is obliged to assist any commercially viable organization.

Some donors have also questioned whether ADI should provide any support for any sanctuaries at all. The sanctuaries have the animals and can organize tours and they are geared to fundraising for them. To some extent, it would also mean that ADI is carrying all aspects of a mission, which impacts the core work that we do: the investigations, campaigns, securing laws, assisting in the laws’ enforcement and in the relocation of the animals. We have been asked why we have given donations to sanctuaries.

ADI believes this must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, based on need. We recently invested almost $100,000 in construction of facilities at Pilpintuwasi, a small sanctuary in the Amazon, for 40 monkeys and other animals rescued during Operation Spirit of Freedom and we are funding ongoing care and providing volunteers and veterinary support. However, as TWAS explained to us themselves, they have a successful fundraising operation and no longer needed ADI’s contribution and that decision released our money to save more animals. With TWAS income now approaching $9 million a year and with 200,000 paying visitors per year (@$15), it is clear to us they are adept at fundraising and the comparatively small amount of help we can give is better directed at more needy sanctuaries.

We continue to rescue animals in Peru – the job is not done yet. As part of this rescue, we must fund the seizures to take the animals from the circuses – costs average $5000 (depending on distance and terrain, number of trucks and cages, number of drivers and size of the team we have to get to the location). The total spent on the 14 seizure operations to date is over $80,000.

To answer other specifically directed points: Only ADI has paid for the travel crates – we have not received any money from TWAS. So far, we designed and built 33 IATA-standard travel crates at a cost of $49,500 ($1500 per crate). Only ADI is paying for the cargo flight that we have chartered; there has been no contribution from TWAS. The cost of the trucks, loading gear and flight to take the lions to their forever home is expected to come to over $200,000, depending upon routes and fuel costs.

We appreciate some supporters’ concerns about the fundraising and we can tell you that if you have given to ADI, it has gone to this rescue. We can’t speak for donations given to TWAS for the “perulions”; they have not been passed to ADI.

We understand that TWAS has already allocated the enclosures previously allotted to the ADI Peru animals to other rescues; so it seems that this decision is going to help more animals. Indeed, the decision for the Peru and Colombian lions not to go to TWAS seems to have been particularly fortuitous for TWAS and the other animals that may go there – especially since a journalist in the local Denver media told us the sanctuary was full and needed to buy more space.

Soon there will be no wild animals in circuses in Peru and no circus animals in Bolivia not because we saved them, not because they went to a particular sanctuary, but because ADI and fellow campaigners secured laws that meant the cages could never be filled again.

The suffering is over, as well as in 30 other countries. It is the investigations and campaigning that lead to the laws that finally protect animals and end the suffering, that ultimately saves the thousands, even millions of animals.

We hope this closes this matter and we can all move on positively for the animals.

The ADI team is totally committed to saving these animals, whatever it takes. We have already relocated over half of the animals saved during Operation Spirit of Freedom – yesterday we rescued another monkey and a parrot; we are tracking another circus and a group of wild animals held in a commercial building has been found and needs to be followed up. All the animals we save in Operation Spirit of Freedom are going to wonderful homes and once again, we thank everyone for their support.

© Animal Defenders International 2019