Two Rescued Circus Lions Have Died in South Africa, Group Says

June 6, 2016 Updated: June 8, 2016

Two lions rescued from circuses in Colombia and brought to a South African refuge in April have both died, the rescue organization responsible for transporting the lions said on its website.

The group, Animal Defenders International (ADI), said the two big cats died from a botulism toxin—of which most lions are resistant. Other lions in the group were also exposed to the toxin but responded well to treatment.

ADI said the two dead lions, named Kala and Rapunzel, are part of a group of 44 at the Emoyo reserve.

“We know that the animals we rescue from a lifetime of malnutrition and abuse are always going to be vulnerable, despite our best efforts with food, veterinary treatment and vitamin supplements. Indeed both of Rapunzel’s parents had died in the circus cage with Rapunzel—her father, from a bacterial infection,” the group said in a statement on June 3.

The two lions had been in ADI’s care since 2014, and when they arrived, “they had been extremely nervous,” the statement read.

“The past 20 months were the happiest of their lives,” the ADI stressed. “Both took to life at Emoya with the most inspiring enthusiasm—they would joyfully run, play with catnip bags and swing their tires from trees, which makes this news so very sad. We treasure every minute of happiness we have given the lions at Emoya and every day of freedom is precious for them, even if for now, we are all heartbroken that their days in the sun were so few.”

Rapunzel (ADI)
Rapunzel (ADI)

The lions were flown to a 5,000-acre reserve on a private estate in South Africa several weeks ago. About 24 were rescued from circuses in Peru and nine were surrendered voluntarily by a circus in Colombia.

Both countries have banned circuses’ use of wild animals, the group said.

The lions would not have been able to survive in the wild because their teeth were removed or smashed, or they were declawed. Meanwhile, one of the cats is blind and the other is missing one eye.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare says that many countries have moved to ban circus use of wild—or all—animals, and they include:

– Nationwide ban on all animals in circuses: Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and Bolivia
– Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El –Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Israel and Mexico
– Nationwide ban on the use of most wild animals in circuses: Belgium, Bulgaria, and The Netherlands
– Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses: Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Sweden, and India
– Nationwide ban on the use of native wild animals in circuses: Ecuador
– Nationwide ban on the use of wild-born animals in circuses: Estonia, Hungary, and Poland
– Local bans on the use of animals in circuses: Ireland, Norway, Spain, UK, USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Australia