There are many people who come to Denver to get a new start to life.
Now, 25 lions are getting that chance as well.
In what is being labeled an “historic and record-breaking animal rescue”, 25 circus lions will be airlifted to the Denver area as part of a rescue operation by Animal Defenders International (ADI).
The former circus lions have been seized by ADI from circuses throughout Bolivia where they lived in “shocking” conditions, the group said. They were removed from the country in December of 2010 and flown to a temporary holding area in Santa Cruz, California. Their final destination is the 80-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, about 41 miles northeast of Denver.
“Their new lives will really begin there, so we just need to get them there and that is the real challenge,” said Jan Creamer, ADI President. “These animals who for years knew only a small, cramped cage will have freedom to roam, run and play.”
The ADI website says the lions were malnourished, thin and dehydrated and living in small cages on wheels. In one instance, eight lions were housed in a cage slightly bigger than two double beds that was placed on the back of a truck.
With the help of Bolivian authorities, the organization collected 17 lions in November, five more in December and the final lion in January. Because of their efforts, the ADI states, Bolivia became the first country in the world to ban the use of animals in circuses.
All of the lions will be airlifted from Santa Cruz to the Sanctuary at the same time, the ADI explains, in an effort to minimize the time they are apart from each other.
“It means that our veterinary team can oversee the lions throughout the flight,” Creamer said. “We also believe that this will be the safest and most efficient way to move the lions, but it is a huge undertaking.”
While the lions receive vaccinations and crates are being built to transport them, The ADI is currently seeking assistance from airline freight companies and even the U.S. military in getting the lions to the Sanctuary.
At their new home, the lions will be released into a new “state-of-the-art habitat” complete with lakes and grasslands, which the ADI states is similar to their natural surroundings.
One mountain lion kitten has been shot and killed during the first two weeks of the 2011 cougar-hunting season, while three other kittens have been rescued for shipment to zoos after their mother was killed by another hunter.
It’s a seemingly contradictory irony that shows problems in the mountain lion season, Custer veterinarian Sharon Seneczko said Monday. Seneczko, founder and president of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation, praised the state Game, Fish & Parks Department for rescuing three kittens estimated at 3 to 4 months old.
But the fact that a lion kitten that was slightly older and bigger was legally killed by a hunter highlights problems with the lion season, she said.
“There’s a lot of inexperience out there and a lot of excitement when they see a lion,” she said. “This is unfortunate, but it’s an inevitable situation. It’s something we should certainly try to address through (hunter) education.”
The lion season opened Jan. 1, and 22 lions had been killed as of Monday afternoon. One of those lions was a 33-pound female kitten estimated at 5 to 6 months old. Although small and young, the lion was legal, state Game, Fish & Parks Department regional supervisor Mike Kintigh of Rapid City said Monday.
“It looks just like an adult, only considerably smaller,” Kintigh said. “When it’s standing in the woods all by itself with nothing to compare it to, it makes it very difficult for a hunter to judge its size – especially when most hunters have very little experience with lions.”
State law prohibits hunters from shooting spotted lions, which typically means kittens that are 6 months old or less. The law also prohibits the shooting of lions that are in the company of other lions.
The restrictions are intended to reduce the killing of kittens or adult female lions with kittens. Kintigh said the 33-pound kitten did not have spots and there was no evidence that other lions were visible when it was shot. So there was no violation, he said.
The hunter who shot the lion and his hunting partner said they misjudged the size of the lion until they approached it after it was shot, Kintigh said.
“Both of them expressed some disappointment when they got up to it and realized how small it was,” he said.
The hunters called GF&P to say they would be bringing in the lion to be checked, as required by law. They were delayed because they had a vehicle accident but were at the GF&P office in Rapid City in about five hours, Kintigh said.
Kittens have been an emotional issue for some critics of the lion season since it was established by the state GF&P Commission in 2005. Former Gov. Mike Rounds intervened at one point to require GF&P to rescue kittens orphaned when their mothers were shot.
That situation last week left three kittens orphaned. GF&P officers found the kittens, estimated at 3 to 4 months old and weighing about 20 pounds each, and sent them to South Dakota State University in Brookings. Wildlife professionals there are caring for the kittens until they can be placed in zoos.
“They’re doing real well. It looks like we’ll be sending them to two separate zoos,” said John Kanta, GF&P regional game manager in Rapid City. “I’m hoping that by the end of the week they’ll be in their new homes, in the zoos.”
Seneczko praised GF&P for rescuing the kittens.
“I’m just so very, very glad that the department has done the responsible thing, because those kittens would not have survived,” she said. “I commend them from the bottom of my heart.”
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or email@example.com
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Those of us who grew up in the Conejo Valley may remember a place called Jungleland, a wild animal park that offered animal rides, exhibits and wild animal shows. Truly a unique place, Jungleland drew people from all areas, including celebrities, and essentially helped put Thousand Oaks on the map.
Those of us who were fortunate enough to have visited this marvelous place may recall seeing a big cat show, where ferocious wild lions came charging into a steel arena only to be halted by the snapping whip of a courageous lion trainer, that man being Chet Juszyk, my father, a former paratrooper who as a child had only one dream; that dream was to become a lion trainer.
Chet was a main staple at Jungleland throughout the 1950s and ’60s where he served as head lion trainer and also managed to tour the county working for Shrine Circus and performing animal stunt work for various movies including Swiss Family Robinson and Ben Hur.
A natural in the arena, Chet loved and respected these big cats with all his heart and used to lie awake at night listening to the roar of these majestic cats from his nearby home. He said it was like music to his ears. He led an amazing life filled with unbelievable stories from Jungleland, worldly travels and lifelong friendships, including that of his childhood idol, the great Clyde Beatty. Respected and loved by many in his profession, my father was a unique talent who entertained many. He was courageous and strong in the arena, yet loving and devoted to his family.
On Jan. 9, Chet passed away due to medical complications. His passing brings an end to the fighting acts we once knew. While he will be missed by many, his memory will always be part of the Jungleland heritage. A talented, brave performer to many and a true hero to me.