Pat Derby, president and co-founder of the Performing Animal
Welfare Society, looks over the progress on the lion
enclosure last week.
Calixtro Romias/The Record
SAN ANDREAS - The 18-foot-tall fences being installed this month at the Ark2000 refuge in San Andreas look a lot like the ones seen in the movie Jurassic Park.
Yet that expanse of chain link, complete with 3-foot-long overhanging cantilevers on the inside, is as much to protect the predators who will soon live there as to protect the turkeys, deer and humans who roam the region outside.
Five former circus lions from Bolivia are coming to live there in May. They have spent their lives in captivity and don't have the skills needed to hunt, or even much experience with open terrain, said Pat Derby, president and co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, which operates the 2,300-acre refuge.
"They lived in little boxes," Derby said. "For them to climb on these branches, to run up and down these hills is just going to be spectacular."
Derby said she has seen captive lions just sit and watch as a domestic cat walked through their compound. She said that wouldn't necessarily be the reaction of the 29 tigers - also all born in captivity - that already live in a separate compound at Ark 2000.
"Tigers have a little bit more of an edge," Derby said.
Ark 2000 is also home to nine elephants.
The arrival of the lions in San Andreas is a milestone in the worldwide debate over whether humans should use captive animals for entertainment.
Bolivia last year became the first nation to ban the use of all animals in circus acts.
If, as Animal Defenders International hopes, other nations, including the United States, eventually ban animals in circuses, the large-cat population in San Andreas could expand further.
"We think PAWS is the very best we can offer these animals," said Alexandra Cardenas, a spokeswoman for Animal Defenders International, the London-based organization whose campaign led to the ban on circus animals in Bolivia.
Animal Defenders International is caring for the five lions - and keeping them quarantined - in Cotambamba, Bolivia, Cardenas said.
"These animals unfortunately cannot be returned to the wild. They need to be cared for, for the rest of their lives, and ADI is funding that care," Cardenas said.
Derby said ADI is spending about $200,000 to create the necessary enclosed dens and the outdoor compound where Dactari, Bambek, Simba, Camba and Maize are headed.
The three males and two females toured with a circus for many years.
Cardenas said investigators with her organization photographed female lions who, while pregnant, were confined in a small cage on the back of a truck.
Cardenas said it's impossible to tell if those lions are the same as those now in quarantine.
There won't be any more pregnancies once the lions move to their retirement home in San Andreas.
Derby said the males and females will be kept segregated initially until it's possible to have the animals neutered.
Then the internal fences will come down. "Lions are highly social," Derby said.
Meanwhile, PAWS officials don't expect the growing opposition to animal circus acts south of the border to necessarily take root in the U.S. any time soon.
They said that while most U.S. residents may dislike the idea that wild animals are held in captivity, they are reluctant to take action, because they see the matter as a property rights issue, since the animals are owned.
In Latin America, in contrast, the matter has been cast in moral terms.
"The Bolivians said, 'That's wrong; let's stop it,' " said Ed Stewart, director and co-founder of PAWS.
Link to more photos here.
Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 607-1361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.