KEENESBURG, Colo. (CBS4) – All 25 lions rescued from Bolivian circuses last month are adjusting quickly to their new surroundings at The Wild Animal Sanctuary near Keenesburg, but several required major dental work.
One example is a full-grown male named Pancho. On Wednesday he was still suffering with a bloody nose the after effects of extensive dental surgery made necessary by infected teeth.
A dental team brought to the sanctuary performed multiple extractions and root canals on many of the lions.
“Within a day you can see they don’t have pain anymore,” said Pat Craig, founder and executive director of the Sanctuary.
Pancho is recovering in a large pen with his sidekick Temuco, another full-grown male. Both arrived in mid-February looking like skeletons, according to Craig. Since then they’ve each packed on about 100 pounds and now weigh around 450 pounds.
Craig said he’s pleased with the progress but the big cats still have a ways to go. He wants the grown males to weigh between 550 and 600 pounds.
In a nearby pen three lion cubs took turns chewing on a lump of specially-prepared meat and poultry and vitamins. The young cats have doubled their weight — from 12 to 24 pounds — since arriving. Craig said what also made a difference was de-worming the cubs and their mom.
All of the activity takes place inside a special barn constructed to protect against cold winter nights. Many lions are taking advantage of open doorways from the barn that connect to outside pens.
On Wednesday males and females and cubs could be seen sunbathing and enjoying the unusually mild March weather. In the sunlight it’s visible where the lion’s skin tones are darker now than the day they arrived.
Craig credits the good nutrition.
Their muscle tone is much improved as well. CBS4’s Paul day asked Craig if it’s the result of an exercise routine.
“We didn’t have to force them but they did exercise,” he said. “Once they got out it was pretty amazing to see this was the first freedom they’d had in their lives.”
Craig gets emotional talking about the cramped, crowded, even cruel conditions the lions experienced in Bolivian circuses.
The rescue by Animal Defenders International and financial support from former game show host Bob Barker and CBS CSI actress Jorja Fox was accomplished after a change in Bolivian law basically outlawed any performances by live animals.
Now crews with the sanctuary are racing to finish up work on a giant 80-acre habitat area for the rescued lions. It’s expected to be ready for dedication by the second week in April.
Craig said the public will be able to see the rescued lions in early fall when a special lion walkway is completed in the new habitat area.