Home South African 17 rescued circus big cats begin their new life in Free State

17 rescued circus big cats begin their new life in Free State


After enduring a life of abuse in Guatemala as circus animals, 12 tigers and 5 lions will now roam free at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary.

Cape Town – They have had to endure a life of abuse in Guatemala as circus animals, but 12 tigers and five lions this week began a new life at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in the Free State.

Once confined to bare cages about the size of a queen-sized bed, they now enjoy natural grassland enclosures with trees and bushes, platforms, dens and night houses.  

The five lions have acres to enjoy in the natural homeland of their ancestors, while the 12 tigers have a 650 000 square foot Tiger Territory complete with a series of spring-fed pools for the tigers to play in.

It took more than 34 hours of flying before they touched down at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Tuesday, then journeying to their new home after being rescued in Guatemala by Animal Defenders International (ADI).

The animals’ journey to freedom marks the successful conclusion of the ADI’s 18-month Operation Liberty mission, during which they assisted authorities with the enforcement of Guatemala’s animal circus ban – ending circus suffering in yet another country.  

ADI president Jan Creamer said: “These animals have experienced a lifetime of suffering and abuse in circuses in Guatemala but those days are over. 

“At the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, our place of loving kindness, the tigers and lions can run, play, and explore their wonderful, natural surroundings under the African sun. The beginning of the rest of their lives, we could not be happier for them.”

Their journey to freedom began on January 18 at the ADI Temporary Rescue Center in Guatemala, where the animals have been cared for since their rescue. One by one, the 17 big cats were coaxed into their individual travel crates. 

Once secured and given time to settle, the travel crates were lifted onto the trucks to take the animals to board the Operation Liberty Flight from La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City.

During the flight, which made stops in Mexico, Belgium, and Qatar to load and unload cargo before reaching its final destination in South Africa, the big cats were monitored by veterinarian Dr Howard Rosner and provided with in-flight meals and water by ADI founders and rescue team leaders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips.

Priority Worldwide president Marc Tohir said: “Priority Worldwide has a strong commitment to the environment and animal rights and was pleased to once again partner with ADI on another ground-breaking animal rescue that has been years in the making. 

“Traditionally animals are transported for activities that Priority Worldwide refuses to participate in, including experimentation, ‘pet’ trade, entertainment, food and apparel. Our entire global team is honoured to take part in this rare opportunity to do something good in transport for animals.”

The Operation Liberty Flight was largely funded by nonprofit leader GreaterGood.org, whose fundraising efforts included a competition for supporters to name two male tiger cubs (Max and Stripes) who were rescued by ADI with their family from a junkyard where the circus had been keeping them. 

“We are thrilled to know that after years of neglect and abuse these former circus tigers and lions rescued by ADI have safely arrived to their destination in South Africa, where they will live and roam free for the rest of their lives,” said Liz Baker, CEO for GreaterGood.org. 

“We are inspired by our community that has helped us fund this life-saving transport and provide these animals with a new home they all deserve.”

Arriving at the 455-acre ADIWS in Free State during the late afternoon on Tuesday, it was possible to release young tigers Max and Stripes – who after their first cautious steps prowled opposite lengths of the huge habitat perimeter before bursting into a run when they spotted one another – and their father Itza, the release of the other animals had to be abandoned until this morning due to the worsening weather.

With the storm passing, and the sun shining, lions Kimba, Sasha, and Tomás were the first to be released on Wednesday, followed by Tanya and her doting partner Tarzan, and then the remaining tigers Sasha and Kumal, Sun and Moon, Luna and Jade, and Sombra, Bimbi and Lupe.


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