[Ed. Note: Watch Bolivian "Circus" Lions Find Sanctuary to see some of the Bolivian lions as they arrive at another sanctuary.]
Kimba has been living in a small concrete zoo enclosure in Bolivia for the past 11 years after being dumped there by a traveling circus. Today, those years are over: he’s on his way to a new life at sanctuary in Colorado.
Kimba the lion greets her rescuers
Kimba is one of 25 lions being airlifted from Tarija in southern Bolivia in what’s being called Operation Lion Ark.
In recent weeks, Animal Defenders International (ADI) has been working with the Bolivian authorities, who have swooped on circuses all over Bolivia and confiscated all of their animals.
Indigenous or domestic animals have been homed in Bolivia, and ADI is taking care of all the lions.
To rescue Kimba, the ADI team had to break down a wall at the zoo and cut through metal railings. The lion was then driven to the airport, with local people applauding as he went by, and loaded onto a cargo aircraft for a smooth hour flight to Santa Cruz, where he joined the other lions waiting to be flown to the United States.
Lions at a circus before their rescue
“Kimba’s rescue concludes part one of this amazing rescue,” said Jan Creamer, President of ADI. “We now have all the lions. Now it’s full speed to get them to paradise at The Wild Animal Sanctuary. These lions who have suffered so much will be able to run and play at last. Metal workers all over Santa Cruz are working flat out to prepare all the crates we need and our veterinary team are ensuring the animals are in optimum condition to fly. Then comes our biggest challenge: flying 25 lions on one aircraft to the USA!”
Creamer said that Bolivia's environmentally conscious government is a leader in the worldwide movement to promote national bans on wildlife in circuses and roadside shows.
“This is the first country that has been emptied of its performing animals,” she explained, referring to Bolivia’s recent law prohibiting the commercial showcasing of wild animals. “In a traveling circus, you keep large animals on the back of a truck, and they will always suffer.”
Cubs being brought to safety and a new life
Hercules, an old lion, resting up before the flight
The big cats are boarding a DC-10 for their flight to sanctuary in what has become a $200,000 airlift. They’ll be joining 270 other formerly captive wild animals, including tigers, bears, leopards, wolves, servals and other lions, at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, near Keenesburg, in Weld County. Most of them come from circuses, traveling shows and private residences.
The lions were rescued after Bolivia banned the use of animals in circuses altogether. They’re on their way to a new life at The Wild Animal Sanctuary near Denver, Colorado, where ADI has been organizing the construction of new facilities on 80 acres of land supplied by the 320-acre sanctuary.
Inside the new lion house at the sanctuary
The new lion house is a fabric-covered structure with eight fenced-in and sodded enclosures where the Bolivian lions first will live indoors, acclimating themselves to Colorado’s weather, while work is finished on four separate 20-acre, open-air habitats that will surround the building.
“The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado is a dream-come-true,” Creamer said. “We know the lions are going to have the life they deserve on these 80 acres. It is more than we could ever have wished for anywhere else.”
The cost to care for a lion or tiger at the sanctuary is about $8,000 a year, bringing the total annual bill to care for the Bolivian lions to about $200,000.
Bob Barker, former host of The Price is Right game show and a long-time animal rights activist, underwrote the construction of the new lion house at the sanctuary and contributed a total of $2 million to Animal Defenders International for emptying an entire country of circus lions.