Operation Lonely Hearts launched for Valentine’s Day

As Valentine’s Day approaches, “Operation Lonely Hearts” at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary is our work to bring solitary lions together.

Some of the most moving moments during our rescues have been re-uniting animals. Who could forget Kiara being reunited with cubs Scarc and Mahla, or lonely spider monkey Pepe meeting Valerie? Animals need their own kind.

Lions are very social, intelligent, emotional, and family living plays a huge part in their quality of life. For many animals in captivity, the worst torture they endure is deliberate isolation from their own kind.

We have suffered heartbreak over the past two years, as the ravages of circus life caught up with several Sanctuary residents.  As painful as it has been for us, it is nothing compared to the loss suffered by their siblings and companions, left behind.

Bumba, Iron and Easy all went through the hell of the circus in Colombia and came through it to a new life at ADIWS; always with their lifelong friends at their side Zeus, OJ and Shakira – they survived together. When cancer was catching up with OJ, it was as if he rallied one last time, and came home from hospital to be with his friend Iron under the African sun. We’ll never forget the joyous romps as Easy greeted Shakira whenever she came home from hospital.

Operation Lonely Hearts will use the facilities you have helped us build at the Sanctuary, together with Jessica Burkhart of Minnesota University monitoring the lions and using a natural hormone spray to help the process of making new friends. We have been bringing each pair together by sharing habitats, but not in the same space at the same time. They eat and play alongside each other in our nighthouses, swapping the feeding camp and main habitats. Now, they are receiving this natural hormone to boost their happy feelings when they are together. This is the hormone which is active when lions greet each other, bump heads and rub together. The lions will continue to eat and sleep next to each other (separated by mesh) and take turns to go in the main habitats.

Looking at magnificent David today at the ADIWS, it is hard to believe that when we rescued him from a circus in Peru, he was afraid to leave his cage. It took hours to gently coax him from the bare cage where he had been born. These days, the 10-year-old is much more confident, and we hope a perfect match for 16-year old Easy.  David and Easy are already living in Camo Habitat and taking turns to be in the main (4 acre) enclosure or in the 7,000sq ft feeding camp.

They are the most advanced of the Operation Lonely Hearts groups we have been bringing together, and we are optimistic their friendship will be a success.

Rolex (11 years) and his sisters Kiara (14) and Africa (9), were rescued by ADI from the same circus in Peru, but in separate raids.  ADI rescued the male lions (Leo, Rolex and his brothers Chino and Coco) but the circus blocked removal of the lionesses and went into hiding. We tracked them down months later, hundreds of miles away, saving Muñeca, Africa and Kiara. Parents Leo and Muñeca (both 19 years) live happily together at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary as do Chino and Coco.  But Rolex has been on his own, taking turns with his sisters.

The three are rotating in Davis Habitat. This introduction is complicated by being a group of three, rather than just two animals, so we may decide to make the actual introduction in a different, neutral habitat. To ensure the move is stress-free the lions are undergoing travel crate familiarisation, being fed inside crates. This is something we do when we move rescued animals. The lions are particularly enjoying the crates in their habitats, sleeping in them, and sitting on them, of course!

The ADI Wildlife Sanctuary does not allow breeding. The lionesses are sterilised, and these introductions are for companionship. True sanctuaries provide homes for animals in need and do not breed or contribute to perpetual captivity.

Bringing two adult males, Iron (17) and Bumba (11) years old, together is the biggest challenge of Operation Lonely Hearts and we are proceeding with caution. The boys are currently in neighbouring Habitats (Sam&Eric and Antonia) and the first steps are to attract them to the fence to check each other out across the 5m road between them. Although Bumba and Iron know each other and lived in the same circus, they had different companions who have now passed, Zeus and OJ. So, there is a good chance for them to be happy together.

With love in the air for Valentine’s Day, I do hope that you will support this important work at the Sanctuary, not only for the benefit of the animals involved but for showing the importance that personal relationships and emotions play, for non-human species.

We cannot guarantee that we have found the right matches for our lonely hearts, and this will be a slow and careful process, but we will try our best for them.

To support Operation Lonely Hearts and the care of the animals

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