By Louie Gilot / El Paso Times
El Paso Times
Article Launched:10/12/2006 04:52:31 PM MDT
JUAREZ — The lion cub at a Juárez wildlife refuge is a different animal from the cowed, emaciated feline that was rescued from its owners just three weeks ago. This lion roars, paces and eats seven pounds of chicken a day.
Last month, police spotted the 19-month-old cub in a large trailer cage hitched to a pickup on Juárez Porvenir highway in the Valley of Juárez. The lion was dehydrated, hungry and aggressive, police said. The men driving the truck said they were taking it to a recreation center for a wildlife exhibition. They didn’t have permits for the animal and were arrested.
As unlikely as it may seem, this happens several times a year in Juárez.
Jose Mario Sanchez Soledad, director of the Mexican federal agency for the environment and natural resources in Juarez, said his agency rescues two or three tigers and lions per year.
“Then our problem is, what do we do with them?” he said.
The only licensed reserve for exotic animals in the state of Chihuahua is in Aldama, 20 minutes northeast of Chihuahua City. That shelter already houses eight or nine rescued lions.
So Sanchez’s agency gave a chance to a budding shelter inside a small family-owned waterpark on Juárez Porvenir Highway called Recreativo San Jorge and sent the Juárez lion there.
Porfirio Silva, the waterpark’s owner, obtained permits to run the refuge two years ago, hoping that the animals would attract visitors in the winter, when the water slides are closed.
Silva predicted that the lion would overshadow the mini zoo’s resident star: Bubu, a black bear. Bubu used to belong to the Mexican Army.
“They had him since he was a baby. He was their mascot but the problem is that they gave him too much candy and now he has cavities,” Silva said.
The government does not pay for the animals’ care.
Also in the shelter are a yak kept by the owner of a construction company, a fox that bonded with a litter of coatis, or raccoon-like mammals, while in captivity, an owl with a broken wing that was ran over by a car and lynxes that were declawed.
Sanchez said he wanted to have signs on all the cages telling the animals’ unique stories and discouraging Juarenses from keeping wildlife as pets.
“In the Mexican culture, people love to have a little piece of nature with them in the city. We are all country people at heart. You ll see that there is no shortage of parrots inside Mexican homes,” he said. “There is also a subculture of drug traffickers for whom having a lion or a tiger is a status symbol.”
The Juárez lion’s origins are still mysterious. It might have been bred in Mexico or smuggled in from the United States, officials said.