Farewell to a warrior for animals

Yesterday, the animals lost a true champion with the passing of Alexis Diaz Limaco, ADI’s Latin America General Manager. His impact for animals was immense. The ADI family has lost a great friend and colleague.

It was a chance meeting in London over 20 years ago that led Jan and Tim to recruit a young Peruvian for ADI’s undercover team. He would prove to be the vital part of the jigsaw of skills which saw ADIs work change laws and attitudes across Latin America.

He began investigating circuses in Spain and Portugal, securing harrowing footage which subsequently help drive bans in both countries on wild animals in circuses. Then he returned to South America, and truly found his calling.

ADI had rescued Toto the chimpanzee from a circus in Chile and launched a campaign to ban animal circuses, tantalizingly close to a ban in Chile, but a major investigation of the Latin American circus industry was needed. Alexis headed home.

Alexis assembled a team. Moving from country to country, he and his team faced huge risks. In Bolivia, he fought off a gang of circus thugs with his tripod; on another occasion, his leg was broken by a circus after he was caught filming.

For two years, the team was undercover inside circuses in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. The footage was horrific: appalling living conditions and animals were being beaten, kicked, punched, even having rocks hurled at them.

Alexis headed to the countries where we had the most evidence teaming up with local campaigners to launch the findings, getting our materials printed, organizing press conferences. The investigation shocked the continent, causing public outcry.

Alexis had been a human rights activist and now threw himself into lobbying for circus bans. Bolivia became the first South American country to ban animals in circuses and then, a new challenge emerged…

A year after the Bolivia ban, one circus had surrendered its animals to ADI, the others were defying the law. In late 2010, ADI began ‘Operation Lion Ark’ in Bolivia to enforce the ban and remove the animals. Alexis was key to recruiting our team, tracking down the circuses, finding a temporary place to keep 25 lions, working with the veterinary team to care for our circus survivors in Bolivia. We raided every circus and rescued every animal.

More bans followed and so too did large scale rescues ¬– in Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala. Together we were emptying the cages. Alexis was at the heart of these operations, organizing, solving seemingly impossible problems, laughing, joking and being the larger-than-life presence, that he was.

He continued working on undercover investigations of animal experimentation laboratories, wildlife trafficking, animal dealers and more. This month he was in Ayacucho, Peru, lobbying, organising press conferences and working with lawyers as he desperately tried to prevent the horrific ‘bull running events’ which he and his team had exposed repeatedly. He had secured a ban on the event but it was under threat of resuming.

Alexis returned home after this campaign in poor health, he became seriously ill and yesterday he left us.

Through the laws he helped to secure, Alexis saved countless animals and rescued hundreds more – tortoises, turtles, monkeys, and birds were able to return to the wild, and survivors like Cholita, Dominga, Sabina, Pepe, and many others, have lived happily in sanctuary homes. The lions and tigers at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary are here, thanks to Alexis and the Latin America team.

If you would like to make an in-memoriam contribution to mark the passing of a true animal champion, we will use it for the ongoing care of the animals he helped save, and for a habitat named in his honor at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, South Africa, home to the lions and tigers rescued from circuses in Peru, Guatemala and Colombia. You can donate here

Alexis is a reminder to each and every one of us of the monumental difference each individual can make. A chance meeting changed the course of his life, our campaigns, and the lives of so many animals. He is a huge loss and will be truly missed as a friend, colleague, and warrior for the animals.

He left an indelible mark on animal protection in Latin America. Thank you, Alexis.

Take time this weekend to sit back and watch Lion Ark, the documentary about the Bolivian rescue and see a remarkable animal defender we have so sadly lost.

Goodbye, our dear friend.

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