Rescue Group Plans Massive Airlift of Big Cats

Operation Lion Ark will airlift 25 rescued circus lions from Bolivia to Colorado.

In what organizers call a record-breaking animal rescue, 25 circus lions will be relocated from Bolivia to a new home in the United States.

Animal Defenders International plans to airlift the lions to the Wild Animal Sanctuary near Denver. Workers from both organizations are finishing the 80-acre habitat, a comfortable contrast to the tiny cages on the backs of trucks where the lions had lived. After observation, the animals will be released into large enclosures with lakes and rolling grassland similare to their natural habitat.

“These animals who for years knew only a small, cramped cage will have freedom to roam, run and play,” said Jan Creamer, ADI president. She is in Bolivia overseeing the rescue operation, where the lions now live in a temporary compound. “We have to be focused on keeping them safe and secure, whilst building up their strength and health to be ready for the move to the United States.”

ADI is in contact with a number of airlines, freight companies — even the U.S. military — to secure an aircraft large enough to take all of the animals. Every day progress is being made on the state-of-the-art facilities at Colorado in readiness for the arrival of the lions.

“We’ve called this Operation Lion Ark because we plan to move all 25 lions in one go,” Creamer said. “This means that although they will be crated separately, we can move the entire families of lions together and minimize their time apart.” She adds that this way, veterinary teams can oversee the lions throughout the flight to provide the safest and most efficient way to move the lions, “a huge undertaking.”

The lions were removed from circuses all over Bolivia in late 2010 by ADI working with the Bolivian authorities enforcing the ban on animal circuses in the country. ADI has launched a Save the Lions Appeal to raise funds for the incredible rescue mission and to help care for the animals for the rest of their lives. To learn more about helping to bring them home, to make a donation or to view footage of the efforts click here. Those interested in learning more or donating can also call (323) 935-2234. 

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores, providing them with a wonderful life for as long as they live, and educating about the tragic plight faced by an estimated 30,000 such animals in America today. 

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