NATIONAL NEWS - An historic rescue mission by Animal Defenders International (ADI), known as Operation Liberty, enforcing Guatemala’s ban on animals in circuses, concluded on Sunday when a cargo aircraft took off from Guatemala City, carrying 12 tigers and five lions to a new life in South Africa.
The animals, who endured years of severe confinement, are destined for the 455-acre ADI Wildlife Sanctuary (ADIWS) in the Free State. The flight will arrive at OR Tambo International Airport in the early hours of Tuesday, 21 January.
For 18 months an ADI team has been in Guatemala working with government officials from the departments of Unidad de Bienestar Animal (UBA) and Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAP) to enforce a ban on animals in circuses that became law in 2018.
Twenty-one lions and tigers were removed from circuses and have been cared for in a specially built ADI temporary rescue centre until they could be relocated to sanctuaries. The ADI team has undertaken similar operations in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, rescuing nearly 200 animals.
Jan Creamer, President of ADI, said: “These animals have suffered a lifetime of deprivation and abuse in circuses, and, working together with the Government of Guatemala, ADI has ended their suffering. At the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, we can give them something as close as possible to the freedom of the life stolen from them. We cannot wait to get them home.”
Legislation banning animal circuses in Guatemala was passed in 2017 and came into force in April 2018. With several circuses defying the law, ADI were contacted to help enforce the ban.
Launching Operation Liberty in May 2018, ADI established a temporary rescue centre in Guatemala to care for the rescued animals until they could be relocated to their forever homes and began removing animals from circuses. All of the animals have required veterinary treatment in ADI’s field facilities, several have health issues due to in-breeding, others have required dental surgery to repair smashed teeth.
The last animals to be removed were from Circo Hermanos Ponce, who initially surrendered nine tigers and two lions, but refused to hand over seven tigers. After five months, the tigers, who were being kept in a junkyard, were handed over to ADI. Tragically, one cub had already died.
The two surviving cubs, along with aunts Bimbi and Lupe, and parents Itza and Sombra, have since been named by GreaterGood.org supporters as Max and Stripes.
An ADI team has been caring for the lions and tigers in Guatemala while all of the necessary permits were secured and preparations made for their new homes. This has included building a huge 650,000sqft tiger territory at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary with spring-fed pools for the tigers to play in. The lions will be enjoying acres of the natural homeland of their ancestors at the sanctuary.
The ADI Wildlife Sanctuary is already home to 26 lions – all but one rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia. Due to the abuse these animals have suffered and their years of confinement, it is not possible to return these animals to the wild.