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TIM PHILLIPS, ANIMAL DEFENDERS INTERNATIONAL: These lions have lived their life in a tiny, rusting, disgusting cage on the back of a lorry. Tomorrow they’re going to feel the wind blow in their face. They’re going to feel grass beneath their feet. They’re going to roam into the bushes. They’re going to do whatever they want. They’re going to be as lions, possibly for the first real time in their lives.
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VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, an unprecedented flight to freedom for 25 magnificent animals. Bravo. Abused lions rescued from hideous conditions in Bolivia are now living out their lives in an amazing Colorado sanctuary. Last week’s operation was the largest ever rescue of its kind. It could not have been done without the help of two amazing animal-loving celebrity who join me right here on ISSUES tonight. I’m talking about my dear friends and my heroes, Bob Barker and Jorja Fox.
Now, when Jorja is not busy solving murders on CSI — come on, how many episodes have you seen her on, right? This time she is investigating real life crimes against animals.
And of course, Bob Barker is a legend from “The Price is Right” fame. You know, he is my hero because he helped pay for this massive rescue mission. I think he gave something like $200,000. He is an amazing, amazing hero for the animals and he’s long time vegetarian and just an activist all the way around for these animals.
Listen to this.
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BOB BARKER, ANIMAL ACTIVITIES: Help control the pet population, have your pet spayed or neutered.
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VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. Have your pet spayed and neutered. That’s his famous line.
Straight out to my dear friends: Jorja Fox and Bob Barker; Jorja, going to start with you. First of all, bravo to all of you, to both of you and the organizations involved for getting these animals out.
Tell us about the conditions that these poor, poor lions have endured for their entire lives. What did you get them out of, Jorja?
JORJA FOX, ANIMAL ACTIVIST: Jane, thank you so much for having us. Again it’s a pleasure to be with you.
To give you a few examples we had eight lions, a pride of lions, a whole family living together. This is adult lions, living on the back of a truck, the size of two double beds. That’s one example of the conditions of these animals.
Another lion had been in a very small zoo cage for 11 years; hadn’t seen another lion in all of that time. Two other lions had never seen another lion before; they were kept in small cages in circuses all by themselves.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Some of these lions, literally as you just heard, never set foot outside a small, filthy cage. Now, take a look at these conditions. No surprise that many were malnourished, stressed and traumatized. But within days of being rescued they were healthier, they were less aggressive, they had shiny coats even. Listen to this.
Bob Barker, again, you gave $200,000 to help make this happen. You are my hero. What runs through you emotionally when you see these animals taken from this hellish situation and put in this fabulous sanctuary where they literally have a 15,000 square foot biosphere to live out their lives as if in nature? Bob.
All right. Jorja, went to take that one?
FOX: Yes, I just wanted you to know that the biosphere is actually temporary. It is 15,000 square it, it has heat, it’s got grass inside, it has toys. This is merely a space for the lions to acclimate to the Denver climate.
In a couple months they will have 80 full acres to share there. The animal sanctuary, a wild animal sanctuary north of Denver has two other lion prides. And it was a surprise to me to find out that lions actually are genetically wired for winter as they traversed Africa they spent a lot of time in the mountains in northern Africa, it gets very cold. So this will be a great place for them. But because they’re just out of Bolivia they’re going to stay a little warmer until the weather warms up a bit.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: well, I want to go to my big issue. I got to say, zoos are basically prisons. Ok. That is my opinion. It is easy to criticize other nations where zoos are terrible.
But let’s talk about the United States. We have countless animals, like Billy the elephant, he is the subject of a huge battle. He is stuck in concrete enclosure at the L.A. Zoo with no companion. See the way they’re rocking like that. That is a sign of distress.
These animals are not meant to live this way, Bob Barker. What would you say to anybody who goes to a zoo?
BARKER: Well, let me say first, that I have heard nothing that has been said thus far. So, I don’t know what you have asked me. I understand you’ve been talking.
VELEZ-MITCHELL:L Tell me about the zoos, Bob, come on. Tell us about the zoos and why you are against them?
BARKER: I am against zoos. I consider them prisons for animals. And the Los Angeles Zoo has kept that poor Billy out there for years, alone with —
VELEZ-MITCHELL: More after the break. More Bob.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We certainly couldn’t have done it without your help, Mr. Barker.
BARKER: Line number one, come on down.
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VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. This is an amazing story, the largest airlift of lions ever, thanks to Bob Barker, of “Price is Right” fame; a second chance at life for 25 beautiful lions. They spent their entire lives in filthy cages as part of really deplorable Bolivian circuses and we’re going to show you that video as we talk.
Bob Barker, the Bolivians aren’t really the bad guys here because they’re actually way ahead of us. They’ve actually passed a law that the United States needs to pass. Tell us about it.
BARKER: Well, the ADI people went undercover and they collected such horrendous tape on the treatment of animals in Bolivia that the government actually passed this legislation that banned circuses that used any animals, even domestic animals. They are banned in Bolivia.
And after that legislation was passed, with other wildlife organizations, ADI went out and gathered up lions and other animals of all kinds and the lions, they brought to the United States, 25 beautiful lions.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jorja why don’t we do this in the United States? We just showed you video of Billy, the elephant at the L.A. Zoo. We could put him up again. You could tell he is in distress, he’s rocking back and forth. There’s been, I don’t know how many legal battles over this elephant. They want to keep that elephant.
There’s a sanctuary that’s dying to take him. There he is. Look, when they rock back and forth like that, that shows that they are not happy, they are in distress, this poor guy on concrete.
Now, Bolivia is ahead of the United States. Why the heck, when we have the video here, this animal is not happy, we cannot get this animal freed to go to a sanctuary?
JORJA: Well, Jane, I want to say, you know Billy is an amazing example of just how horrible zoos can be for animals. He is not the exception, you know. Billy’s story is a very, very common story. He happens to be one of the more famous elephants out there.
I think it is coming to the United States. I think that the more people find out what’s going on and also examples, it is a true testament to the Bolivian people what they were able to accomplish very quickly. And when you hear a success story like that and you see that it can actually be done, and you see these lions moving to a sanctuary, it brings it all into the realm of the possible.
I think in the United States, we are going to see a movement like this becoming more and more powerful over the next couple of years. It’s a long time coming. And I believe in the goodness of people. This lion expedition was really for the lions and about the lions.
But at the end of the day, it was a true testament to the human spirit and what people can accomplish when they work together to make something great happen; so many people stepped forward.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Absolutely. Yes. And I want to thank some of the organizations. You can help the lions as well by supporting the amazing groups that were involved and made this happen, check out Animal Defenders International, you can go to AD-International.org. You can also visit wildanimalsanctuary.org and make a donation and get involved.
Listen, Bob Barker, I am going to give you the last word. You are just a hero. What would you say to Americans about zoos?
BARKER: Well, I think that the progressive, well-informed zoos are already closing their elephant exhibits. I would like to see them close all of the big animal exhibits. I think that the sooner that there are —
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We are out of time. I love both of you. Thank you.