A Peruvian circus bear who had her teeth pulled out and her paws mutilated by handlers will be given asylum in a wildlife refuge in Colorado, thanks to a clever and very persistent group of animal-rights activists.
Cholita, a 25-year-old Andean bear whose sorry story made the British tabloids and YouTube, will fly to Colorado on April 20 with 23 rescued circus lions on a flight chartered by British NGO Animal Defenders International (ADI).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cleared her papers today.
“We vowed not to leave anyone behind,” ADI President Jan Creamer said in a statement. When the organization’s flight takes off from Lima in three weeks, “there will be no more circus animals left in Peru,” the activist claimed.
Over the past 12 months, ADI and Peruvian officials have rescued more than 70 circus animals in Peru, which banned animals from circus acts in 2012.
Cholita was rescued from a circus 10 years ago, but has been living at a dilapidated, small-town zoo since then.
Luckily for Cholita, she was discovered early this year by ADI staff, who decided to add her to the list of circus animals that will be taken to Colorado.
With almost no fur on her body, Cholita looks more like a giant rodent. For years she had been kept in a 5'x 5' box, and had her teeth broken to prevent her from biting her circus owners.
In order to fund her rescue, ADI asked for donations on social media, posted a dramatic YouTube video detailing her condition and reached out to British papers like the Daily Mail, which published several stories about Cholita.
The campaign has led to an estimated $44,000 in donations from Daily Mail readers alone, which will help pay for the cost of transporting Cholita and the circus lions to the United States.
Cholita’s cause has also benefited from the fact that she is a spectacled bear, the same endangered species as the British childrens’ book hero Paddington Bear.
Even Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond has rooted for the “real life Paddington’s” cause.
While the campaign has been successful, ADI says it still needs a few thousand dollars more to be able to airlift Cholita and her friends to the U.S.
The airlift will cost around $192,000. The total bill for the yearlong animal rescue effort, called Operation Spirit of Freedom, will run around $1.2 million.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.