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New home gives Bolivian lions chance to be 'real lions'

11:01 PM, Feb 17, 2011   |    comments
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"They've never had this kind of space before and they're going to graduate from these [enclosures] to 80 acres," Pat Craig with the Wild Animal Sanctuary said.

Craig says the 25 lions brought to the sanctuary were kept in small cages during their time in the circus, so even the 1,500-square-foot heated enclosure they are being held in as they acclimate to Colorado's climate is pretty roomy.

"You wouldn't have this relaxation in the crates or trailers they had down in Bolivia," Craig said. "This lets them do the things they've never been able to do before. These lions have never stepped foot on grass before in their lives."

Staff at the sanctuary said several of the lions are exhibiting pretty typical behaviors for lions kept in captivity, including pacing.

"As soon as the lions were released into the new enclosures, they would check out everything," sanctuary employee Shawna Finkenbinder said. "They quickly explored and rubbed against the pine trees, rolled on the grass, and checked out the logs and the balls."

Once the weather warms up, the staff of the Wild Animal Sanctuary will allow the lions into the much larger enclosures, where they'll learn to be more like lions in the wild.

"It was a momentous thing to get them up here from Bolivia. Now we're facing many years of rehabilitation getting them out in these big open spaces... where they can get out there and roam and be like real lions," Craig said.

Even in the short time since they arrived in Keenesburg, the staff has noticed improvements in the lions' behavior.

"Today we've witnessed them frolicking, playing, rolling, lounging and sleeping as soundly as possible, and that's just in a matter of hours," Craig said.

Finkenbinder says many of the lions have exhibited very distinct personality traits.

"Some might be more curious, some might be more outgoing, some might be a little bit more shy," she said.

Craig says the lions are pretty hardy animals and will be able to adapt to Colorado's climate pretty easily. He says it does freeze in Northern Africa, so lions can even endure our winters. The sanctuary will have the heated enclosure available, however, for future subzero cold snaps like we've seen this year.

The lions are being well-fed with hope they'll put on more weight and build muscle. Every one of the cats was examined by a veterinarian before arriving at the sanctuary and will be re-examined in a few days.

The lions were rescued from Bolivia after the government there passed a law outlawing circus animals. Some circuses gave up their lions voluntarily while others were forced to turn over their animals.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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