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Animal Defenders International

Freedom for lions and tiger saved from life of circus misery

Posted: 14 February 2007. Updated: 16 July 2012

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On 2nd February, following months of negotiation, two lions (Ceasar and Sarah) and a tiger (Tarzan) rescued from a traveling circus in Portugal arrived safely at the ADI Rescue Centre at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in South Africa. An urgent appeal was launched to raise funds to cover the costs of the incredible rescue mission and to cover the costs of caring for the animals for the rest of their lives – averaging £1,000/US$1,955 per year for food and care including veterinary costs.

Last year, through our Stop Circus Suffering campaign in Portugal, we learned of two lions and two tigers apparently abandoned at the roadside in Parmela, Portugal, by Circo Universal. An ADI Field Officer investigating the situation discovered that the animals had not been abandoned but that the circus was simply off the road due to lack of funds. An ADI vet then visited the animals to assess their condition and to vaccinate them and to give them a good hearty meal with mineral supplements to start building up their strength.

Shortly after this, the Portuguese authorities moved in to seize the animals and agreed to hand them over to ADI as soon as permits were in place to move them to our rescue centre in South Africa. Disappointingly, the animals were temporarily held at Lisbon Zoo where access to them was even refused to the ADI veterinary team.

Just days before Christmas, all of the import and export permits were finally in pace after a series of agonising delays and we swung into action confirming flights and moving our transport crates to Portugal.

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Then tragedy struck. The zoo reported that the second tiger, Royale, had suddenly died. Just two weeks before she would have left for freedom and with the crate that would have carried her to South Africa already en route to Portugal. Two weeks later, as the other animals headed to South Africa in their crates, the saddest sight was the flat packed crate of Royale going back empty.

We still do not know the official cause of death, but do know that the animals we rescue can be broken by the lives they lead – be it abuse, lack of appropriate care and diet, the impacts of severe confinement, or even the results of irresponsible inbreeding. It is heartbreaking, that Royale was so close to freedom – one of the few animals that could have made it out alive – but it was not to be. Nonetheless our rescue team were spurred on by the desperate desire to move Tarzan, Ceasar and Sarah to safety and freedom.

In late January, the ADI rescue team which included ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer, were joined in Portugal by Mrs Lente Roode of the HESC, and vet for the operation, Professor David Meltzer. The animals were finally placed in the care of ADI at Lisbon Airport, where a press conference was also staged condemning the continued use of animals in circuses. The animals were given final health checks and water before the journey by ADI Campaigns Director Tim Phillips and Professor Meltzer.

Tarzan, the tiger, was especially calm even rolling on his back inside his travel crate. Sarah and Ceasar were less happy, perhaps remembering previous torment in the circus. Ceasar, a truly huge lion (but minus his mane because he had be castrated) was pacing up and down and both he and Sarah would launch themselves at their rescuers whenever they tried to inspect or water them. At ADI, we have learnt to respect animals which don’t like people – we can understand why! Access to the animals was closely controlled with the media given no access to Sarah and Ceasar, but allowed to take a few pictures of Tarzan who really didn’t seem to care.

The animals were then shut into their crates and fork lifted onto pallets and finally loaded into the aircraft. Our special thanks to TAP, Portugal’s national airline who reduced the flight costs of the cats to help make this mission possible. TAP staff where also a huge help along with the ground handling staff Neotrans at Lisbon airport and Johannesburg, our thanks also to our shipping firm PBS.

As the sun set, the ADI team flew took off from Lisbon on the same flight as the lions and tiger and at 6am the following morning we touched down at Johannesburg airport. The team nervously awaited the cats to be unloaded and immediately checked them on the tarmac of the airport. With a huge sigh of relief all of the cats were in great shape.

They were then loaded onto a truck for and eight hour drive up to Hoedspruit in Limpopo. During this our biggest concern was the sudden rise in temperature that the animals had to face, but the crates were well ventilated and we provided water as needed.

In the late afternoon, Tarzan was released into his new enclosure of natural bush with a pool in which he can swim if he wishes. The lions were released into a temporary holding pen (albeit much bigger than anything they have lived in to date) whilst their permanent home is finished.

Tarzan is only five and could easily live for another 10 years. The lions, Sarah and Caesar, are around seven or eight, and will probably reach the age of 15. At this age they should be at the peak of their physical prowess, which makes it all the more heartbreaking to imagine them living out their lives in cramped cages, never having walked on grass or really stretch their legs and run. These animals will meet bushes and trees for the first time in their lives.

In 1996, ADI rescued six lions and three tigers from a circus in Mozambique. Two of the tigers and two lions are still alive, well into their teens, and going strong. Shorty a male lion in the care of Brian Jones at Moholoholo is now extremely old but it is a fighter and just keeps going, Blondie who shares his bush enclosure looks as if he has hardly aged in a decade. The two tigers are at the ADI Rescue Centre at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre and are going strong. Freedom with ADI has been good for these animals, and we think it will agree with our latest arrivals from Portugal.

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Samantha Janus, currently in ‘Guys & Dolls’ with Don Johnson ex-‘Miami Vice’, and celebrity supporter of ADI, commented: “These animals have been abused and made to suffer terribly at the hands of human beings. They have been deprived of everything that makes life good for a lion or a tiger. It is time for all of us to take responsibility and do something to make up for what these animals have lost. Please help the ADI Rescue Centre to care for these animals for the rest of their lives. The ADI Rescue Centre needs help and donations to make a difference for these animals, and for many others who can be rescued from similar situations in future. Please help ADI to make a difference with your donations.”

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