MARCH 30, Lima, Peru: The 'real-life Paddington bear' who was abused at the circus is set to get her story-book ending – she will join 33 rescued circus lions on the special 'Spirit of Freedom' flight chartered by Animal Defenders International (ADI) flying from Peru to Colorado.
After a week of urgent negotiations the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has confirmed that it will issue an import permit for Cholita, the bear who has won the world’s hearts, to enter the US.
VIDEO of Cholita: https://youtu.be/5trDRn9Gs3Y
The scars of Cholita’s abusive past at the circus are clear to see – her fingers were brutally cut down to stumps and her teeth were broken, leaving her defenseless. Elderly Cholita is barely recognizable as an endangered Spectacled bear because she is suffering from severe hair-loss. Where she should have thick, black fur she has none, leaving her almost completely bald.
Cholita was kept illegally by a circus and confiscated by Peruvian authorities ten years ago. Since then, the bear has been living in a zoo because no suitable permanent home could be found for her.
Custody of Cholita will be handed to ADI this week and an ADI rescue and veterinary team will relocate her from the zoo near Piura in the northern desert region of Peru to the ADI Spirit of Freedom Rescue Centre near Lima where she will be prepared for the upcoming flight. An ADI truck and travel cage has already begun the epic journey to recover Cholita which will take more than two days. ADI plans to recover the abused bear on Tuesday, along with a young woolly monkey called Neva who the organization will relocate in the Amazon. Cholita and Neva are expected to arrive in the ADI rescue center by Wednesday.
Last week, ADI President Jan Creamer postponed the ADI Spirit of Freedom flight for up to two weeks in order to give the US authorities time to process Cholita’s application. She vowed “We can’t leave Cholita behind”, yet the delay is costing the organization an extra $5,000 per week in care costs alone.
ADI’s General Legal Counsel told the US Fish and Wildlife Service that ADI could hold out another 1-2 weeks to give the agency more time to process the application. ADI also agreed to take legal custody of Cholita in Peru – even though the organization would have been left to find another home if the USFWS had refused her entry. The gamble paid off and the agency has now confirmed that Cholita’s entry permit for the US would be granted.
ADI President Jan Creamer said, “This is wonderful news. We were determined not to leave Cholita behind, and we are very, very, grateful how everyone has pulled together for her – the US and Peruvian authorities, the zoo where she is in temporary custody, and the sanctuary that will be her home.”
“Her story is not over yet, ADI has a complex operation in the next few days to collect Cholita; we then have three weeks to prepare her for the flight. Cholita is one of 70 animals including lions, several species of monkeys and other native wild animals we are rescuing and relocating in our groundbreaking Operation Spirit of Freedom.”
ADI has launched an international appeal for funds for the $250,000 Spirit of Freedom flight scheduled for April 20th – Cholita will be on board with 24 lions from Peru and the flight will stop in Bogota, Colombia to collect nine more lions the organization has rescued from circuses there.
In a separate airlift provided by the Peruvian Air Force, almost 40 native wild animals - 28 monkeys, 4 kinkajous, and 4 coatis - rescued by ADI are being relocated to seven habitats being built by ADI in the Amazon.
The huge rescue mission known as ADI’s 'Operation Spirit of Freedom' has lasted many months, spanned two countries and seen the rescue of 70 animals. The mission is primarily to enforce Peru’s ban on wild animals in circuses and start the same process in Colombia. ADI has raided numerous circuses all over Peru, bringing the animals back to a temporary ADI custody center near Lima in what has been the biggest rescue and enforcement operation of its kind. It is expected to cost ADI over $1.2 million with the biggest single cost being the Spirit of Freedom flight to the US.
ADI is building monkey habitats at Pilpintuwasi Sanctuary near Iquitos, Peru, while the lions and Cholita will eventually find their home at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
Jan Creamer: “We vowed not to leave anyone behind when we instigated ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom almost a year ago. Only this month we seized three lions and two monkeys from a circus that almost slipped through the net, and now I am pleased to tell you that Cholita will be on the flight with us too. We still need donations to help complete the task, but when the ADI Spirit of Freedom Flight takes off in three weeks time there will be no more wild animals in circuses in Peru – please help us accomplish the mission.”
Please donate to help save Cholita and the other animals saved during Operation Spirit of Freedom: www.ad-international.org/CholitaAppealUS