- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

DENVER (AP) - Twenty-five lions, most of them rescued from Bolivian circuses, arrived in Colorado on Wednesday to start their new lives at a wildlife sanctuary.

The 14 males and 11 females landed at Denver International Airport around 4:30 p.m. The jetliner pulled into a maintenance hangar and police officers armed with assault rifles stood by as a precaution.

Television personality and animal advocate Bob Barker helped finance the $200,000 airlift. He and actress Jorja Fox of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the group’s ambassador, were on hand to welcome Operation Lion Ark. Barker said he was excited to see the animals headed to a sanctuary where they will have room to roam.

“They will be the happiest little babies you ever met,” Barker told reporters.

Barker said he hopes someday no circuses will have animal acts.

As the first caged animal was moved off the plane, Barker yelled, “Lion No. 1, come on down,” mimicking the way contestants were introduced on his game show “The Price is Right.”

The animals were rescued from deplorable conditions after a law was passed last year in Bolivia prohibiting all performances involving animals, Animal Defenders International said. Most of the lions were dehydrated and suffered from eye and foot infections when rescued, the group has said. David Kopp, chief of wildlife in protected areas in Bolivia’s environment ministry, said 24 lions were rescued from circuses, while another former circus lion was rescued in a zoo that was being closed down.

He said the rescue leaves Bolivia with three lions, which are in accredited zoos.

While three cubs were in one cage with their mother, the rest traveled in their own cages, accompanied by a veterinarian. Before leaving Santa Cruz, Bolivia, they were given sleep medication.

The lions will now be trucked to their new home at the Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesburg, about 35 miles northeast of Denver. A 15,000-square-foot biosphere was built to help them adjust to the chillier climate.

The sanctuary is already home to about 270 wild animals, including lions, tigers, bears and wolves.


Associated Press writer Sheila V Kumar contributed to this report.

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