We are heartbroken that our dear Ricardo, the one-eyed ex-circus lion ADI rescued in Peru in 2014, has passed away in his sleep, at 19 years of age. We will have the results of his autopsy in a few weeks, but it appears that old age caught up with this warrior. He was one of the bravest lions we have encountered and loved by the ADI and sanctuary teams and our supporters.
Years before Peru banned animals in circuses, ADI first met Ricardo in a small circus cage, his eye infected and swollen. Our footage helped convince authorities to act. Ricardo and his cage mates, Junior and King, were removed from the circus and temporarily placed in a zoo and his eye was removed. Peru banned wild animals in circuses, and in 2014 as ADI helped enforce the ban, Ricardo, Junior and King were handed over to ADI.
On collection day, the zoo anaesthetised the lions and put them into our travel crates. We will never forget our horror when Ricardo started having seizures. The ADI veterinary team gave an antidote, but nothing worked. We opened the crate and fanned him, sprayed him with water and poured icy water between his toes to try to bring his temperature down. But it was so hot that day, we were fighting a losing battle – there was nothing more the vets could do. We could not wait – we had to get on the road to get his temperature down.
We drove through the mountains, letting the cool breeze blow through his crate. It seemed so heartbreakingly unfair, if we lost him when he was so close to freedom. There was joy and relief when, after several stressful hours our beautiful Ricardo opened his eyes and raised himself up. We were elated.
Ricardo found happiness over the next two years at the ADI Temporary Rescue Centre in Peru, where he ran and played with grass beneath his feet for the first time. He knew he was respected and loved. We had planned for Ricardo to share with his old cage mates Junior and King, but they moved to attack him – brave Ricardo saw them both off, and although we broke up the fight in 52 seconds, it felt longer.
In 2016 we moved him with 32 other lions to his African homeland. Ricardo had found his voice in our care, and was the lion whose roar first boomed out as our flight touched down in Africa. As we taxied, all of the lions were roaring – led by Ricardo!
In the final years of his life, dear, brave Ricardo enjoyed more space than he had ever known, in peace and tranquillity, living alongside ex-circus lionesses from Colombia, Shakira and Easy at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary. Although we knew Ricardo could be reaching the end of his days, we kept up hopes we would hear his roar for longer.
We have all lost a friend, but it is important for us to remember that together, we made the final six years of Ricardo’s life as happy as possible, given that he could never return to the wild. We will all miss him terribly, but we have the comfort of knowing that together we did our best to give him these precious years, back where nature intended.
Thank you for helping us to give others, like Ricardo, a second chance at life.