Freedom for lions and tiger saved from life of circus misery!

PBS help ADI (Animal Defenders International) with the rescue of abandoned circus lions and tigers, read the full story below and watch the video of the lions being released in their new home!

Last year, through the Stop Circus Suffering campaign in Portugal, ADI learned of two lions and two tigers apparently abandoned at the roadside in Parmela, Portugal, by Circo Universal. An ADI Field Officer investigating the situation discovered that the animals had not been abandoned but that the circus was simply off the road due to lack of funds. An ADI vet then visited the animals to assess their condition and to vaccinate them and to give them a good hearty meal with mineral supplements to start building up their strength.

Shortly after this, the Portuguese authorities moved in to seize the animals and agreed to hand them over to ADI as soon as permits were in place to move them to our rescue centre in South Africa. Disappointingly, the animals were temporarily held at Lisbon Zoo where access to them was even refused to the ADI veterinary team.

Just days before Christmas, all of the import and export permits were finally in place after a series of agonising delays and ADI swung into action confirming flights and moving transport crates to Portugal.
Then tragedy struck. The zoo reported that the second tiger, Royale, had suddenly died. Just two weeks before she would have left for freedom and with the crate that would have carried her to South Africa already en route to Portugal. Two weeks later, as the other animals headed to South Africa in their crates, the saddest sight was the flat packed crate of Royale going back empty.

We still do not know the official cause of death, but do know that the animals rescued can be broken by the lives they lead – be it abuse, lack of appropriate care and diet, the impacts of severe confinement, or even the results of irresponsible inbreeding. It is heartbreaking, that Royale was so close to freedom – one of the few animals that could have made it out alive – but it was not to be. Nonetheless the rescue team were spurred on by the desperate desire to move Tarzan, Ceasar and Sarah to safety and freedom.
In late January, the ADI rescue team which included ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer, were joined in Portugal by Mrs Lente Roode of the HESC, and vet for the operation, Professor David Meltzer. The animals were finally placed in the care of ADI at Lisbon Airport, where a press conference was also staged condemning the continued use of animals in circuses. The animals were given final health checks and water before the journey by ADI Campaigns Director Tim Phillips and Professor Meltzer.

Tarzan, the tiger, was especially calm even rolling on his back inside his travel crate. Sarah and Ceasar were less happy, perhaps remembering previous torment in the circus. Ceasar, a truly huge lion (but minus his mane because he had be castrated) was pacing up and down and both he and Sarah would launch themselves at their rescuers whenever they tried to inspect or water them. The ADI have learnt to respect animals which don’t like people – they can understand why! Access to the animals was closely controlled with the media given no access to Sarah and Ceasar, but allowed to take a few pictures of Tarzan who really didn’t seem to care.
The animals were then shut into their crates and fork lifted onto pallets and finally loaded into the aircraft. Our special thanks to TAP, Portugal’s national airline who reduced the flight costs of the cats to help make this mission possible. TAP staff where also a huge help along with the ground handling staff Neotrans at Lisbon airport and Johannesburg, our thanks also to our shipping firm PBS International.

As the sun set, the ADI team took off from Lisbon on the same flight as the lions and tiger and at 6am the following morning they touched down at Johannesburg airport. The team nervously awaited the cats to be unloaded and immediately checked them on the tarmac of the airport. With a huge sigh of relief all of the cats were in great shape.

They were then loaded onto a truck for and eight hour drive up to Hoedspruit in Limpopo. During this our biggest concern was the sudden rise in temperature that the animals had to face, but the crates were well ventilated and we provided water as needed.

In the late afternoon, Tarzan was released into his new enclosure of natural bush with a pool in which he can swim if he wishes. The lions were released into a temporary holding pen (albeit much bigger than anything they have lived in to date) whilst their permanent home is finished.

Tarzan is only five and could easily live for another 10 years. The lions, Sarah and Caesar, are around seven or eight, and will probably reach the age of 15. At this age they should be at the peak of their physical prowess, which makes it all the more heartbreaking to imagine them living out their lives in cramped cages, never having walked on grass or really stretch their legs and run. These animals will meet bushes and trees for the first time in their lives.

Click here to see the rescue galleries!