Two years on: the Guatemala lions and tigers in Africa

Were you watching as the lions and tigers rescued from circuses in Guatemala crossed the globe, stopping in Mexico, Belgium and Qatar on their way to a new life at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa? The flight of the 17 lions and tigers marked the end of a very tough 18-month enforcement operation of Guatemala’s ban on animal circuses. Fast forward two years, here they are now, at ADIWS this week.

Their lives changed under ADI care – from the day we removed them from the circus cages and put them in our Temporary Rescue Unit, they got to run and play on grass for the first time ever, and nobody can forget how the tigers splashed around in their first pools!

We have watched the tiger cubs we rescued at just 4 and 6 months old – Sun, Moon, Max and Stripes – grow into huge adults. With good nutrition, space to run and play, they have all outgrown their siblings and parents. We have felt the pain and heartache of the health issues which have faced this tiger family. In-bred and malnourished from birth, we have battled digestive problems, damaged nervous systems and seizures with hospital visits, MRIs and medication. We were broken to lose Bimbi, Sombra, Itza and Kumal as the damage from the circus caught up with them. We finally lost the battle, despite valiant efforts by the veterinary team. We are thankful they got to run and play in the sunshine and did not end their days in their horrific circus cages.

When we rescued lioness Sasha, she had endured years of pain from a horrendous circus declawing procedure as a cub. In our field hospital in Guatemala, we amputated a crushed, infected toe, but discovered a cancer in her leg. In South Africa, Dr Peter Caldwell performed ground-breaking surgery, removing the diseased bone, and inserting a titanium plate. She still limps because the tendons in her leg shortened over the years of limping, but is pain free, and limps up and down from her platform. We hope that the physiotherapy of playing with balls and toys may stretch the tendons back over time.

Lupe continues to be treated for her seizures. Tarzan and Tanya still adore each other, Kimba and Tomas roar loudly to the other lions, tigers Max and Stripes have grown in confidence, Sasha tiger roams her territory, chasing the wildlife, and spice girls Jade, Luna, Sun and Moon play their really wild, crazy games.

Happy Anniversary. ADI’s Operation Liberty Airlift would not have been possible without our generous supporters; you stuck with us through 18 hard months in Guatemala and cheered on the flight to freedom. We are also grateful to GreaterGood.org, Dr Lo Sprague, Dr Betsy Coville and air transporter Priority Worldwide, who also made sure this rescue happened.

Thanks also to the Government of Guatemala for the ban and officials at Unidad de Bienestar, Animal MAGA, and Conap Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas, and our animal protection partners in Guatemala, ARCAS. We changed things forever.

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