The 12 tigers and 5 lions had an epic journey from Guatemala to the Free State.
Tuesday, January 21 marked the beginning of a wonderful new life for 12 tigers and 5 lions at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary (ADIWS) in South Africa, the big cats relocated to their forever home after being rescued from a life of circus suffering in Guatemala by ADI.
The animals’ journey to freedom represented the successful conclusion of the organization’s 18-month Operation Liberty mission, during which ADI assisted authorities with enforcement of Guatemala’s animal circus ban, ending circus suffering in yet another country.
The epic 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, their journey of a lifetime got underway. The travel crates were lifted onto the trucks to take the animals to board the Operation Liberty Flight—largely funded by nonprofit leader GreaterGood.org—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.
After more than 34 hours flying, on the morning of January 21 the animals touched down at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to an eager audience of reporters, and ADIWS and airport staff.
For the final leg of their journey home, the animals traveled by truck to the 455-acre ADIWS in Free State. After arriving at the sanctuary, during the late afternoon of January 21, a fierce storm blew in as ADI began unloading the big cats. Although 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 the next 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 January 22, 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.
The animals, once confined to bare cages about the size of a queen size bed, now enjoy natural grassland enclosures with native trees and bushes, platforms, dens, and night houses. The 5 lions have acres to enjoy in the natural homeland of their ancestors, while the 12 tigers have a huge 650,000sqft Tiger Territory complete with a series of spring-fed pools for the tigers to play in.
The ADIWS is now home to 43 big cats—all but one rescued from circuses in Latin America. Due to the abuse these animals have suffered and their years of confinement, it is not possible to release them in the wild. Most of the animals were declawed in the circus, a cruel mutilation to remove the claws.
Learn more about the ADIWS here.