We are heartbroken to report that beloved spectacled bear Cholita, who was cared for at ADI’s facilities in Peru, has passed away in her forest home.
Our small, indomitable bear was an inspiration, surviving all the horrors the world threw at her to return home to the forest. Few animals have so captured the hearts of people around the world.
At 33 years old, Cholita had reached her final years and when she stopped eating we all feared that she had decided it was time to say “goodbye”. She was suffering from acute kidney failure and her body was shutting down. She was sedated and the veterinary team worked all night to give her body the support it needed. But finally, it was time to say “farewell”. We think Cholita knew all along. She passed away in the forest home she had known for the past eight years since ADI rescued her following decades of suffering.
Hers was an incredible story, highlighting Cholita’s resilience. A chain of events and mishaps had led Cholita to her happy ending. Torn from the wild as a cub by traffickers and sold to a circus; her fingers were cut off and her canine teeth broken so she could not defend herself. She lost all of her fur as a result of the stress. After more than a decade in the circus she was seized by the Peruvian authorities but they had nowhere for her, and for another decade she remained alone in a small zoo. Then ADI came into her life…
On the first raid to enforce Peru’s circus ban, the circus blocked ADI’s removal of three lionesses and went into hiding with them. It seemed a disaster but would in fact lead us to Cholita. We tracked down the lionesses (who were later relocated with their family and others to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary) seven months later near Piura in northern Peru. A senior Peruvian wildlife official had been asking every animal group she met, to help the bald bear. But there was never anywhere for her. So, the night before the raid to save the lionesses, ADI went to see Cholita at the local zoo – and fell in love with her.
We returned to save Cholita that month. We lifted her onto our truck in her old circus cage and then released her into a freedom cage full of hay bedding and she nestled right down. Everyone who was there, swears she turned and smiled.
But there still appeared to be no suitable home and it looked like the only option would be a sanctuary in the US. But our veterinary team determined that Cholita, who was very unhealthy and had difficulty breathing, was not fit enough to fly. It seemed a disaster but would transform Cholita’s life. We redoubled our efforts.
We searched all over for a home but were turned down again and again. Then we met Taricaya Ecological Reserve in the Peruvian rainforest, at the foot of Cholita’s natural range. They agreed for ADI to build a forest habitat for Cholita. She would be going home.
But getting her there would be a challenge – she could not fly but would need to travel high over the Andes. So, we built her an oxygen tent over her crate on the back of truck, and pumped in extra oxygen. The journey was three days by road and river. It is considered by our team as one of the most gruelling relocations – for everyone except Cholita who seemed to enjoy all the comforts, attention, and as many grapes as she liked!
When she was released into the forest, Cholita went down on her knees, kissed and licked the ground. She explored, plucked and tasted leaves, stood up on her hind legs to see the forest, watched butterflies and appeared transfixed by the sounds. She was home.
Thanks to Cholita, within a year ADI had rescued three more bears and brought them home to the forest to live alongside her.
For eight years, Cholita flourished in her forest home and her chest and breathing cleared up. Her hair never grew back, just a few little patches (her skin had thickened after decades of baldness) but her skin tone improved dramatically. She would communicate with the other bears, but mainly kept to herself exploring her habitat and relaxing in her hammocks. And, she so loved being fed grapes!
Humans stole so much of her life but she relished every moment of her eight years of relative freedom. She got to choose where to be, and what to do. Her indomitable spirit and lust for life remains an inspiration to us all. May we all find the courage and determination of Cholita.
She lifted us all and will be dearly missed.