Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

A special Fatherís Day for Itza the tiger

Posted: 14 June 2019. Updated: 14 June 2019


Sunday will be Fatherís Day and I want to share with you the story of Itza, the huge tiger who melted my heart, when I saw what a good father he is, to his family.

Last year began with little hope for Itza and his family.

He was living in a cramped circus cage on a truck with food and water pushed through a hatch. Disaster struck when the circus employed a poor, untrained casual worker.

We were advised that as the unfortunate man pushed the meat through the hatch, including his arms; Itza grabbed one arm, and the worker punched Itza to try to free himself, but that arm was also grabbed, by either Itza, or another tiger. The poor man lost both arms. There were calls to kill Itza.

Guatemalan officials called ADI and asked for our help as the deadline to enforce the circus ban approached. We sent a fact-finding team and by May, we were removing animals from circuses and on this day, last year, we arrived at Itzaís circus.


It was a very long day in difficult circumstances with an aggressive circus; shouting, screaming, abuse, theft of our tools, and one circus worker exposed himself. Nevertheless, we left with nine tigers and two lions Ė an incredible achievement, yet we were heartbroken.

The circus had blocked the removal of six tigers, Itzaís family. I vowed we would return.

Six months later, we were rescuing Itza, his young sons, partner Sombra and aunts Lupe and Bimbi from the circus, now holed up in a junkyard.

The circus cage was on private property and it was agreed between police and officials that the circus would load the tigers into the ADI cages, and we would take them away.

I was concerned when the circus loaded one of the cubs with Itza instead of his mother. How would Itza react on the long journey to the ADI Temporary Rescue Center? What if he attacked the cub? Had we been set up by the circus for a tragedy? We put covers around Itza and his cub, so that Itza could not see any threats to his cub (i.e., humans).

At our first stop to check the animals, Itza growled at everyone. But his son was in no danger, dad was growling at anyone who approached his boy and even wrapped a huge reassuring paw around his son. He is a wonderful father. We were all deeply touched.


The next day, Itza and his cub stepped out onto grass for the first time and were reunited with the rest of the family. They nuzzled, licked each otherís heads, chuffed and played Ė especially the cubs, who got very excited and played hard until they were exhausted. Soon, we had them splashing in water for the first time, with the boisterous cubs eventually driving the adults to a quiet corner to snooze, away from the kids!

We have 21 lions and tigers in our care in Guatemala, waiting for the permits to transport them to their new life. All have required veterinary procedures in our field hospital, but are now micro-chipped and their health checks have cleared them for travel.

12 tigers and 6 lions will be going to our new ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa where Itza and the other tigers will have a 650,000sqft territory, which stretches across part of our lake, to provide swimming pools inside the enclosure.

This has been a very tough rescue. An ADI team has been based in Guatemala for over a year, in a remote location (not of our choice) working in extreme heat with water shortages and then torrential rain. Last month, an armed mob twice attempted to enter the ADI Temporary Rescue Center, our guys locked themselves in, with the animals. Due to the threats, government officials have agreed that we can move to a safer location near the city as soon as possible, which will also help when transfering the animals to the airport for their flights.

To get Itza home, we will need a travel crate ($1,200/£923), an airfare (at least $8,000/£6,50) and his care costs. But, this Dad is going nowhere without his family, so we need that for 11 other tigers too.

This Fatherís Day, will you get the ball rolling to get Itza and his family to their new life? Please give a special Fatherís Day gift to a very special father.

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© Animal Defenders International 2019