Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lionair: Saved from a life of suffering in Bolivian circuses, 25 big cats board a plane for a new start in the U.S.


Nervous flyer: Fida, who was saved from a travelling circus, looks petrified while waiting at an airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Rescued from captivity, 25 lions sit patiently in containers on the runway tarmac at a Bolivian airport as they wait to board a plane to start a new life in America.

The lions, most of them given salvation from Bolivian circuses, flew from the South American country to Colorado yesterday on their way to their new home at a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

The 14 males and 11 females landed at Denver International Airport in the afternoon and were then unloaded into a maintenance hangar where police officers armed with assault rifles stood by as a precaution.

Now boarding: A Bolivian army officer walks among the cages of the rescued lions before they are loaded onto a plane to America

Thirsty: One of 25 lions rescued from Bolivian circuses gets a drink of water in its shipping crate after landing in Denver, Colarado

The lions were saved from deplorable conditions after a law was passed last year in Bolivia prohibiting all performances involving animals, Animal Defenders International said.

Most of the lions were dehydrated and suffered from eye and foot infections when rescued, the group has said.

Television personality and animal advocate Bob Barker helped finance the $200,000 airlift.

He was on hand to welcome Operation Lion Ark and said he was excited to see the animals headed to a sanctuary where they will have room to roam.

'They will be the happiest little babies you ever met,' Barker told reporters.

Bumpy flight: A lion roars at Animal Defenders International vice president Tim Phillips after landing in Denver yesterday

Loading up: The special containers are prepared to be moved onto an airplane at Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz

Barker said he hopes someday no circuses will have animal acts.

As the first caged animal was moved off the plane, Barker yelled, 'Lion No. 1, come on down,' mimicking the way contestants were introduced on his game show The Price Is Right.

While three cubs were in one cage with their mother, the rest travelled in their own cages, accompanied by a veterinarian.

Former life: Two of the lions who were given salvation from captivity in Bolivia are seen in cages in Santa Cruz

Captivity: The big cats, seen here held in tiny cages in Santa Cruz, will now live at a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado

Before leaving Santa Cruz, Bolivia, they were given sleep medication.

The lions will now be trucked to their new home at the Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesburg, about 35 miles north-east of Denver.

A 15,000sq ft biosphere was built to help them adjust to the chillier climate.
The sanctuary is already home to about 270 wild animals, including lions, tigers, bears and wolves.

Landed safely: Airport staff in a United Airlines hangar in Denver unload the animals

source: dailymail

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