LIMA, Peru — After a lifetime of cruelty and abuse in a Peruvian circus, life has suddenly gotten much better for Cholita, an aging Andean spectacled bear.
During her circus ordeal, in which she was only let out of a small cage to perform tricks, Cholita’s paws were cut down to stumps to remove her claws and her teeth smashed. The stress even caused her thick black hair to completely fall out.
But now, British group Animal Defenders International (ADI) has returned her to a spacious, specially built enclosure in dense cloud forest in the Taricaya Ecological Reserve, in southeastern Peru.
Cholita, 25, is one of a dwindling number of Andean spectacled bears, the same species as children’s favorite Paddington. Experts believe there may now be as few as 5,000 of the small, timid, omnivorous mammals scattered in remote foothills from Colombia to Bolivia.
She spent three days on the epic 1,000-mile drive, over the Andes, swaddled in blankets to protect her from the cold mountain air. ADI even laid on an oxygen tent as the truck carrying Cholita went over a high pass almost 15,000 feet above sea level.
Her stroke of fortune comes as ADI prepares to airlift 33 lions, rescued in the same operation from circuses in Peru and Colombia, back to Africa.
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ADI head Jan Creamer said: “When we first met Cholita, the vivid scars of her abusive circus life were clear to see. She has come so far since then, and it is a wonderful feeling to have seen Cholita return to the world from which she was stolen as a baby.”
Some locals still hunt the spectacled bear. But the biggest threat is habitat loss, as humans increasingly cut down the forests in which the bears live.
Cholita was the star of the ADI convoy of rescued animals to Taricaya, which also included three woolly monkeys, two spider monkeys, a mountain lion and a macaw.
The move follows campaigning by ADI that led to Peru banning circus acts including wild animals in 2011. The mountain lion was seized from a circus, where it had been living in a cage on the back of a pick-up truck, while the monkeys and macaw were taken from wildlife traffickers.