Lions, bears and a camel: Colorado sanctuary leads effort to save hundreds of Puerto Rico zoo animals

Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg plays Noah for hundreds of animals from closed Puerto Rico zoo

Monte Whaley
The Colorado Sun
Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg plays Noah for hundreds of animals from closed Puerto Rico zoo
(AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo)

Malawi the lioness does not walk like her wild kin that stalk the African plains with stealth and menace.

Instead, the 3-year-old resembles a punch-drunk boxer staggering to get to her neutral corner after a 10th round pummeling. She lists slightly to one side while trying to keep her footing before her 300-pound frame sags to the ground at an airy enclosure at Keenesburg’s Wild Animal Sanctuary in Weld County.

Malawi and her 3-year-old female sibling, Chad, have legs that are so badly atrophied they are unable to support their bulk, mostly from malnutrition and lack of physical activity. They and five other lions suffered the same fate, spending all of their lives in 20-by-30-foot individual cages at the defunct Dr. Juan A. Reviro Zoo in Puerto Rico

A big male — 17-year-old Tsavo — has a mouthful of rotten teeth and other ailments, sanctuary officials say. 

Marsha Vermilye, co-director of animal care, interacts with a lion named Tsavo, that came to the Wild Animal Sanctuary after the permanent closure of the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
(Jeremy Sparig, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Broken physically, the lions also appeared defeated in spirit by the time they arrived at the 1,200-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary in April, Marsha Vermilye, co-director of animal care at the sanctuary, said recently. The effort to get the lions, along with two black bears and a towering camel called Dasani, to the sanctuary is part of a massive modern-day Noah’s Ark-type effort to rescue hundreds of animals from the shuttered zoo and settle them elsewhere. 

Read the full story at The Colorado Sun.

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