Lions, Tigers, Hippos and Other Colombian Drug Lord Pets

ABC News Nightline
Nightline FixJuly 11, 2014

You're about to meet a woman who takes care of big, potentially dangerous animals, abandoned by or taken from drug kingpins. What they may have been used for is nothing short of shocking. It's feeding time for two of Colombia's most feared animals - Bengal tigers - once owned by a paramilitary commander who allegedly used them to devour his enemies.

Animals so dangerous, so unpredictable - but one woman is getting right up close and very personal with some of the deadliest pets of Colombia's drug lords.

The story begins in the slums outside of Kali, Colombia. A world few people, let alone TV cameras, are ever allowed to see. Bob Woodruff visited a place teaming with more than 800 exotic animals. Welcome to the wild kingdom of Ana Julia Torres, school principal turned animal rights crusader.

The animals love her. It's the way they express their gratefulness to her.

Many have been rescued from the harsh world of circuses and animal trafficking. A world where flamingos are forced into suitcases and smuggled out of the country. But the most dangerous are the forgotten victims of Colombia's never-ending drug wars. One-time status symbols left behind by the country's drug lords, after they were arrested or killed.

Jupiter, a giant 500 pound lion who hasn't seen his new master in more than a week embraces Torres. Many wouldn’t dare go past the gate – but Torres does.

“She's been taking care of them for so long,” her cousin Diego says, “and I guess they feel the love, you know?”

While no animal has ever been shunned, Torres does refuse government financing. Everything is paid for with private donations and food donated from local grocery stores.

But there's something else here, far more valuable. “When you give them love like that, do you think that their health, their condition gets better?” Woodruff asks.

“Yes,” she says. “Love can do anything.”