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Bolivian Lions Headed To Colorado Wildlife Sanctuary

Written by Paul Day KEENESBURG, Colo. (CBS4) - Twenty five African lions who have been rescued from circuses in Bolivia are being flown to Colorado to live out the rest of their lives at an animal sanctuary.

"It's the biggest international rescue that's ever been done," said Shawna Finkenbinder, the development director for the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Weld County.

Located near Keenesburg, the sprawling 320-acre facility is already home to 270 large cats, bears and wolves. All the animals were raised in captivity and have never known what it's like to live in the wild. They were removed from circuses, traveling shows or private homes because they were unwanted or worse -- they were abused.

Mistreatment is the reason for the rescue of the Bolivian lions. Pictures provided by Animal Defenders International, an animal rights group, show eight of the Bolivian lions crowded into a small trailer.

"There's not enough room for them to move without standing on each other, they're living in their own feces," Finkenbinder said.

Final preparations are under way on a spacious indoor enclosure where the lions will be acclimated indoors to Colorado's winter.

"Obviously coming from Bolivia during February is really not a good change unless you have a good environment for them," explained Pat Craig, the executive director at the Sanctuary.

The relocated cats are getting the royal treatment. The heated enclosure will have sodded lawns. There's a big toy ball for them to play with and live pine trees provide something fun and fragrant to rub against.

The Bolivian lions are due to arrive Wednesday via jetliner at Denver International Airport. A small convoy of trucks will bring them to the facility after nightfall.

Getting acclimated will take about a month. After that they'll be released to newly-constructed 20-acre outdoor habitat areas surrounded by tall, sturdy fences.

It's estimated the entire operation will cost about $300,000. Funding is coming from animal rights activists and private donors.

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