17 February 2011
DENVER -- More than two dozen Bolivian circus lions were getting accustomed to their new surroundings at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colo., Thursday.
They arrived at their new permanent home on 80 acres of open space Wednesday evening, after a long flight from Bolivia to Denver.
The lions were greeted by a couple of well-known celebrity animal activists, Bob Barker from "The Price is Right," and actress Jorja Fox from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
"Lion number 1, come on down!" Barker exclaimed with microphone in hand when crews started unloading the lions at DIA.
For the next few weeks, the big cats will live inside a 12,000 square foot enclosure as they acclimate to their new environment.
The animals were rescued from small, traveling circuses in Bolivia, and they completed their long journey from South America Wednesday afternoon when the cargo jet they were riding in landed at Denver International Airport.
The conditions and treatment of the lions was so bad, the government of Bolivia recently passed a law banning the use of animals in circuses, and many of the animals were in poor health when they were rescued.
"Operation Lion Ark,” sponsored by Animal Defenders International, has been working for the past three months to rescue the big cats which were being housed in crates and cages.
Former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker, a longtime animal rights activist, helped fund the operation.
"It is calling attention to the cruelty to animals in the circus unlike anything that's happened in a long time," Barker says.
"I'm over-the-moon excited," Jorja Fox says. "I'm trying very hard to contain myself, the hardest part for me is not crying."
When the lions arrived at the Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesburg, it was the first time they ever stepped on natural grass in their lives, according to Pat Craig of the sanctuary. "They'll be going out to an 80-acre habitat where they've never had that kind of freedom ever."
Experts say the lions cannot be put into the wild because they've been in captivity their entire lives.