After spending years performing in circuses in Guatemala, and patiently waiting through an 18-month rescue mission, 12 tigers and 5 lions are finally free.
In 2018, Animal Defenders International (ADI), working with authorities in Guatemala, helped enforce Guatemala’s circus animal ban by rescuing the big cats as part of their Operation Liberty mission. On Wednesday, that mission came to a heartfelt conclusion, when all of the animals were released into their new home: the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa.
“These animals have experienced a lifetime of suffering and abuse in circuses in Guatemala but those days are over. At the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, our place of loving kindness, the tigers and lions can run, play, and explore their wonderful, natural surroundings under the African sun. The beginning of the rest of their lives, we could not be happier for them,” Jan Creamer, President of ADI, said in a statement.
The last step of this long journey began on January 18 at the ADI Temporary Rescue Center in Guatemala, where the big cats had been living since being saved from circus life. Each of animal was carefully loaded into their own travel crates and trucked to an airport in Guatemala.
At the airport, the furry cargo was moved from trucks to the Operation Liberty Flight. Certainly not an express trip, the lions and tigers endured more than 34 hours of flying, making stops in Mexico, Belgium and Quatar before reaching South Africa. During this jet-setting, all of animals were looked after and fed by veterinarian Dr. Howard Rosner and ADI’s founders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips.
On Jan. 21, the 17 patient animals touched down at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, where they were greeted by press, fans and plenty of animal lovers. After taking a moment to freshen up, the cats’ carriers were placed on the last leg of their journey — a truck ride to the sanctuary that is now their home.
That evening and the following morning, ADI safely unloaded all of the animals into their new reality. Some of the animals, who had formed close bonds during their time together in the circus, rushed to meet each other in the wide, open space, and all of the lions and tigers quickly adjusted to their new abode, complete with several exciting amenities.
Unlike the small, bare cages that these big cats spent the majority of their time in at the circus, their new home has acres of grassland filled with trees, bushes, dens, pools and more.
With this addition, there are now 43 big cats living at the sanctuary, and all but one are former circus animals from Latin America.
Moving 17 lions and tigers from our continent to another takes a village. Along with the dedicated work of ADI, O. R. Tambo International Airport and Priority Worldwide, a freight and shipping service, stepped up to make sure these animals made it to their final destination without issue.
Additionally, the Operation Liberty Flight was largely funded by non-profit leader GreaterGood.org, which worked to raise money to cover all the logistics and costs that come with moving 17 big cats around the world.
“We are thrilled to know that after years of neglect and abuse these former circus tigers and lions rescued by ADI have safely arrived to their destination in South Africa, where they will live and roam free for the rest of their lives,” Liz Baker, CEO for GreaterGood.org, said in a statement. “We are inspired by our community that has helped us fund this life-saving transport and provide these animals with a new home they all deserve.”
To learn more about this group of recently relocated big cats and how to help animals like them, visit ADI’s website.