Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Operation Spirit of Freedom ADI removes all the wild animals from Peru’s circuses #2

Posted: 27 October 2015. Updated: 28 October 2015


Cusco – 3 lions saved: At 11,000ft above sea level this was a difficult place to work, and the circus had a lawyer to try to block the seizure. A difficult day began at 9am and the stand off lasted all day, with the circus threatening to release the lions from their cages. With tempers flaring, officials negotiated removal of three lions and the others to remain with the circus, subject to a court hearing.

ADI was asked to leave the area while tempers cooled. 1-2 hours later we were invited back, to discover that Kiara had been separated from her cubs and Smith (a castrated male) had been separated from his cage mate Amazonas, and placed with temporarily with Rey’s cubs! Despite our objections, we were told we could remove Kiara, Rey, and Amazonas or nobody, but if we took them immediately we would be able to return for the others. Surrounded by an angry mob, we transferred the lions to our truck; the circus workers blocked the exit, but were eventually moved and we drove away to a safe distance.

We waited in Cusco the following day in the hope that the court would secure the other animals, but were told that no hearing would take place for weeks. At 4.30am next day, we left with the three lions for a 35-hour drive over the Andes back to Lima. It was heart breaking to see Kiara so distressed and constantly calling for her cubs Mahla and Scarc. We had kept the seizures under wraps, but when we reached Lima the news had broken, making front pages and TV. Then something extraordinary happened…


Cusco again – 3 lions and Pepe the monkey saved: We arrived at the ADI Spirit of Freedom Rescue Center on Thursday to non-stop media interest and repeatedly called for the remaining animals to be removed, citing the lions’ distress – but the circus clearly decided it was business as usual...

At Friday’s evening show in Cusco the lion presenter invited a teacher from the audience to join him. In an incredibly irresponsible act, the teacher was brought into the ring and placed between two pedestals with a still-distressed Smith on one pedestal, towering above her. The trainer sauntered behind Smith and lost eye contact with him; Smith looked down on the irresistible nervous woman below, and pounced. He is declawed, but sank his teeth into the woman’s padded coat collar and ran around the ring dragging her like a rag doll while the trainer tried to beat him away. The woman survived but was hospitalized. Caught on film, the images became an internet sensation.

For most of the world it showed how stupid and unsafe circuses are, but for locals it was about a dangerous lion in their community and a petition was started, calling for Smith to be killed. ADI did back to back TV interviews, explaining Smith’s stress due to losing Amazonas and being placed next to cubs that were not his, arguing that all of the animals needed to be removed, that it would be a travesty if Smith were punished for doing what comes naturally to a lion.


Over the weekend, the Director of SERFOR met with us for four hours and confirmed that all the animals would now be removed from the circus because of the tragedy. By 9am on Monday, an ADI team was back in Cusco ready to take Smith and the cubs – but it would take five more days before they were safe.

A large and violent circus mob faced dozens of armed riot police, backed by SWAT teams, as ADI removed Smith, Scarc, Mahla and a spider monkey named Pepe.

40 hours later in Lima, mother Kiara jumped bolt upright as the truck containing her cubs drove into the ADI Spirit of Freedom Rescue Center. Her excitement grew as the weather covers were removed and she could see her babies. Their cage was lowered into place, secured and slowly the doors between the cages raised. With much nuzzling and licking of heads, the family was reunited.

Pepe, the gentle spider monkey, was very cooperative and walked out of his travel crate into a specially adapted cage where the collar and chain wired to his neck were cut off. The circus had snapped off all of his canine teeth, leaving just stumps. Pepe would be the first of many of the residents of Spirit of Freedom to have dental surgery to relieve the pain of his infected teeth. For now, and for the first time in his life, Pepe was treated with kindness and respect and he could swing free, play with toys, climb and sleep on a soft straw bed.

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