Saving Lions in Colombia and Peru

resize vet checks
Animal Defenders International has their vet team examine the Lions rescued before their new lives start, ADI photos.

Saving lions with a new life in Africa from Zoos in Central America

By Kristen Richard

Animals do not speak a language that humans can understand. Because of this, they can pay with a price as big as a life, when they fall into the wrong hands. Many animals spend their lives suffering without the ability to cry for help. It seemed that 33 lions in the circuses across Columbia and Peru were going to live out the rest of their lives in starvation and chains.

However Animal Defenders International took a stance and decided to make a change.

Animal Defenders International

A Lioness plays with her new toy.
A Lioness plays with her new toy.

ADI was founded in 1990 by the husband and wife team Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips. ADI has offices in the United States and the United Kingdom. Their work is carried out all over Europe, South America, and even further across the globe.

Together the team founded a world organization that has saved the lives of countless animals. Despite facing angry mobs, violent attacks, and death threats they continue to fight.

Through using false identities, hidden cameras, and covert surveillance technology ADI has exposed the cruelty of circuses, laboratories, and slaughterhouses around the globe.

In 2005 ADI sent several undercover workers to work in various circuses in Bolivia, Peru, and Columbia. These workers spent two years secretly filming, recording, and photographing the atrocities that these lions and other circus animals were facing every single day.

Rescue Mission

In 2007 ADI released all of their findings. Bolivia was the first country in 2009 to place a ban on the use of animals in circuses. Peru and Columbia followed a couple years later.

The circuses had two years to phase out their animals. However according to Phillips many had a hard time selling them to places like zoos because many of the animals have been mutilated and are were very old and mangled looking.

Despite a legal ban being in place, Phillips and Creamer realized that the law was not actually being enforced in Colombia and Peru. The countries did not have the resources to fully uphold the law and circuses continued to keep these animals.

“It’s an uphill battle,” says Phillips, “animal rights are never on the top of the pile.”

A Lioness becomes a lion again in her new life.
A Lioness becomes a lion again in her new life.

They knew they could not wait any longer and worked with the Columbian and Peruvian government to help them enforce these new laws. ADI raided every single circus in Peru and Columbia to rescue the lions. Phillips said that when the team shows up in their trucks prepared to confiscate the lions they were often greeted with an angry mob.

Angry Mobs

Phillips said sometimes they have to call in the swat team because the mobs will start to get violent. He says the mobs are often made of the animal’s owners and the townspeople.

To rescue the lions ADI chained their cages to the ones the lions are already in and try to coax them in. He said many times the trainers banged on the cages to scare the animals from leaving.

He says they try to reason with the owners by telling them, “If you have regard for the animals you will let them go.”

Despite facing the challenges ADI managed to rescue 33 lions. Twenty-four from Peru and 9 from Colombia.

Many times the animals are very mutilated and old. ADI finds sanctuaries or creates ones that are as natural a life as that animal can possibly live.

These 33 rescued lions are currently residing in Peru where they are being microchipped, receiving their passports, and being checked by the ADI veterinary team. Two of the lions have received dental surgery. The Lions will be flown to South Africa’s sanctuary Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, their native land.

Phillips says that when they rescue animals they normally have, “dead eyes, sad eyes they are waiting for nothing but they are still in there.”

He said however when they are given basic comforts such as food, water, a comfortable place to sleep, and safety they begin to come alive again.
With this rescue mission he says the team is able to watch them, “become lions again.”


Cholita gets a new chance at life that was robbed from her as a cub.
Cholita gets a new chance at life that was robbed from her as a cub.

I also had the chance to talk to Phillips about a bear they rescued named Cholita. She had her toes cut off and her teeth snapped out at the circus. Because of the stress of her captivity, all her hair had fallen out.

She was rescued and placed in a zoo but unfortunately her fight was far from over. She was kept in a zoo that was only supposed to be temporary place for her, but that temporary placement turned into 10 years.

After 10 years of receiving just enough food and water ADI was able to rescue her.

Over the years she had developed respiratory problems. Therefore the ADI team turned her cage into an oxygen tank on their four-day drive across the Andes.

Cholita finally reached her home, a sanctuary that ADI had created for her, which was also her native forest in the Amazon she was taken from twenty years ago. Phillips said as soon as she set foot on the soil she immediately began licking the earth, to replenish all the minerals and nutrients she had been deprived of.

She then walked into the forest pulling leaves off the trees and sniffing them. She will now live out the life that was robbed from her when she was a cub.

Later on she was even given an operation and now has the claws on all four feet.

To learn more about Cholita and to help her in her new life visit the ADI website.

More Information

Their work also includes educating the public on the importance of animal welfare. They also assist in drafting legislatives for legal enforcement of animal rights around the globe.

Though ADI has saved many animal lives and continues to fight everyday their mission is far from over. To learn more about ADI and to donate visit their website.

And to learn more about the 33 rescued lions or to help out this incredible cause visit their website.

Kristen Richard is a graduate of Umass Amherst. When she is not writing she enjoys photograhy, running, biking, horeseback riding, and finding new places to travel.

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