Four lions, rescued by Animal Defenders International (ADI) from a Bolivian circus when the country banned the use of animals in circuses landed yesterday at San Francisco airport, before heading on to a life of luxury at the ARK 2000 sanctuary in Calaveras County.

ADI, which has previously rescued and relocated animals in Europe, South America and Africa have described it as one of the most complex logistical operation they have ever undertaken but say it will be worth all of the effort when the animals walk free.

CSI actress Jorja Fox, the ADI spokesperson for the operation, greeted the lions at San Francisco airport.

“These magnificent lions have lived all their lives in a tiny cage on the back of a truck,” she said. “They have never felt the grass beneath their feet or had the space to truly run and play. They symbolize everything that is wrong with using animals to entertain people in circuses and that will be vividly clear when they run free in their new home. What a way to start memorial weekend. These lions really are home for the holidays.”

At 11am, Friday May 28, the lions will be released into the wonderful new natural habitat that ADI have constructed in partnership with the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) who run the world-renowned, 2,300 acre, ARK2000.

Pat Derby, President and Founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, said, “Animal Defenders International contacted PAWS last year about providing a permanent home for the African lions remaining in Bolivia. Because we have ARK2000, our 2,300-acre sanctuary in San Andreas, California, we were happy to be able to help.”

Ed Stewart, PAWS’ Sanctuary Director, added, "We have been busy developing plans for the new lion habitat. Each lion has his or her own denning area and a vast natural habitat full of trees, shrubs and grasses.

“The next few weeks will be very busy as we carefully evaluate each animal and determine if any necessary medical treatments may be required. Each of the lion’s diets will be assessed and progress reports will be updated several times each day.

“We are all grateful to Bob Barker for his support of our sanctuary. As with every animal at PAWS, we are committed to providing life-time care. Each of the new lions will now have the peace and freedom to do as they please. They can nap or roam, sunbathe or explore. It’s their home and they will make their own choices."

Derby said, “We congratulate ADI for their tireless efforts to rescue these animals and we applaud the government of Bolivia and its good citizens for banning the cruel exploitation of animals used in circuses. This is certainly a landmark victory and we hope that other countries around the world, including the United States, will take notice and follow suit.”

Jan Creamer, the ADI President who has been in Bolivia coordinating the rescue, said: "With the Congresses of Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and Chile all considering legislation to ban animal circuses, this rescue is not merely symbolic, it shows that we are prepared to make a real commitment to ensure that bans on animal circuses can be fully implemented and animals can be saved.

“As other animals need homes we will be assessing these on a case by case basis. With these lions there were clear welfare and public safety issues, When dealing with lions there are not only welfare and public safety issues, we are therefore delighted to be working with PAWS who have enormous experience with big cats and a reputation for setting the highest standards in animal care.”

The ADI rescue operation was backed by Bob Barker.

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