(This Jan. 21 story corrects to say that 17 animals, and not 21, were relocated to the South African sanctuary, out of a total of 21 animals rescued by ADI.)
(Reuters) - Twenty-one lions and tigers were rescued from circuses in Guatemala, and 17 of them were relocated to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa on Tuesday by an animal conservation and protection group who said the animals had endured years of severe confinement and maltreatment
The team from Animal Defenders International plucked the big cats from circuses in Guatemala after 18 months of persuading the government to enforce a 2018 ban on animals in circuses.
The animals were in abject condition, with some having had their toes clipped to prevent claw growth or their canine teeth knocked off, the group said. They were cared for at an ADI rescue center until they were able to be relocated to the sanctuary, ADI said.
“This has been the toughest operation we have ever had,” said ADI president, Jan Creamer. “We had lots of threats to ourselves, to the animals and to the operation, and we had to really battle our way through it.”
The cats were kept in cramped conditions with little room to move, and “were malnourished, they were only being fed chicken feet and they were all poorly developed,” Creamer said.
The animals are recovering at an ADI sanctuary in South Africa. The nonprofit has conducted similar operations in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia and rescued nearly 200 animals.
Reporting by Bernadette Baum; Editing by Lisa Shumaker