Colorado Sanctuary gets ready for biggest lion rescue ever

Bob, a lion cub born into a Bolivian circus, is waiting to move to Colorado. He's named after Bob Barker, his sponsor.

Twenty-five African lions that got stuck in abusive circus acts in Bolivia are getting ready for a massive airlift to Colorado, where they’ll live in The Wild Animal Sanctuary just northeast of Denver.

Ironically, the country they’re heading to still has all kinds of circuses, rental lions and strange private menageries that hold lions. Bolivia became the first country to ban both domestic and wild animals in circuses in 2009–stepping ahead of more developed nations. Americans increasingly feel circuses are just…icky. Comedian Patton Oswalt has a hilarious bit in his act now wondering why we as a country still have circuses, of all the barbaric entertainments.

These lions got freed from the sideshows thanks to Animal Defenders International, which has been campaigning in Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador to end animal circus acts since 2007. With the help of circus workers, they got undercover video showing how badly the animals are treated. That spurred Bolivian politician Ximena Flores to push the ban in 2009.  We must commend the Bolivian authorities for the decisive way that they enforced the ban on animal circuses,” said ADI President Jan Creamer, who’s running the rescue. “Bolivia has set a shining example to the world.”

ADI promised they’d take care of any animals left stranded by the band. Starting last summer circuses turned them over, including six monkeys, a coati mundi, a deer and horse. They raided the hold-outs, finding eight lions jammed in bed-sized cage in a truck. Last month ADI found one circus pimping out three emaciated lion clubs in a local park, where tourists paid to pet and photograph them.  “They were born into misery, but they will grow up free,” Creamer said,”They will be the last animals to appear in a Bolivian circus show.”

The 25 lions are recuperating in a temporary ADI compound near Santa Cruz (on land loaned by Santa Cruz Mayor Percy Fernández) until they all head to the states en masse within the month–once all the arangements have been sorted. “Operation Lion Ark” will be the biggest lion airlift ever–if anyone tracks such things.

It’s a huge project for the Wild Animal Sanctuary, which just took in 25 bears from a failed Texas sanctuary last month. They’re constructing a huge indoor, heated sanctuary with sunlight and sod to welcome the big cats, who won’t be ready for Colorado’s winter. They’ll start off divided into eight groups, then switch to four when they get access to their vast outdoor enclosures, which will include water features, underground dens and play structures.

The sanctuary normally would neuter male animsl; they never want to produce yet more captive wild animals since there are too many being held in zoos and private collections already. But that doesn’t work for lions, who loose their manes. So they give the female lions a version of Norplant, a contraceptive implant, says the sanctuary director of development, Shawna Finkenbinder. People will be able to see them enjoying their new life from a boardwalk above–once a link is made to the park’s other walkways. That sounds like more fun than any zoo or circus.

Where to Go See Big Cats

Help Animal Defenders International’s Save the Lions Appeal

Check out Animal Defenders International

Visit The Wild Animal Sanctuary

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