Lambert the lion and Tasha Joy the tiger, the last wild animals at the former Saipan Zoo, are now in Colorado, in the keeping of The Wild Animal Sanctuary near Keenesburg.
The pair of big cats left the island last Wednesday evening.
Zoo owner Frank Aldan said he had been looking for a new home for the two 15-year-old animals since the zoo was destroyed by Typhoon Soudelor in August 2015. The zoo has been closed since then. “What was left of the zoo was not fit for animals like them,” he added.
After an exchange of communications with the non-profit sanctuary staff, Aldan said he decided to send the lion and the tiger to Colorado.
He approached Samaritan’s Purse, which has its own DC-8 cargo plane and has been flying to Saipan to assist in relief efforts, and the organization offered to transport the animals—a male African lion and a Siberian tiger—to the wildlife sanctuary in Colorado.
According to Samaritan’s Purse Saipan team leader Mark Langham, the zoo owners approached the organization since they had access to an aircraft.
“The zookeeper reached to the aid community to see if it was possible. A similar request had been made in 2014 after Typhoon Soudelor,” Langham told Saipan Tribune. “We had an empty plane going back and were asked to provide transportation,” adding that it was the Saipan Zoo’s initiative to send the big cats to a sanctuary.
“…We know the people of Saipan will miss Lambert and Tasha and we hope they will come to Colorado to visit them,” Langham told Saipan Tribune.
In a separate press release, Aldan is quoted as saying: “It breaks my heart to see them leave, but I know they will go to a place where they can socialize with their own kind.”
“It is good that they can be in a sanctuary. Colorado’s one of the largest in the U.S.,” he added.
Aldan acquired the lion and the tiger from the Southern Comfort Ranch in Guam. The animals were 2 years old when the ranch shut down.
“I took care of them since they were [small], but they now need to find a better home. The sanctuary will be that home for them,” he said.
According to Samaritan’s Purse, the DC-8 aircraft carrying the big cats landed in Denver last Dec. 5, 2018. Both big cats, according to the same statement, were reported to be about 60 percent underweight.
Casey Craig, chief operations officer for The Wild Animal Sanctuary, reported the tiger and lion were severely malnourished, but now will be able to recover with proper nutrition and medical care.
“A bear and leopard had already perished at the zoo, so we were very grateful for this opportunity,” said Craig.
U.S.-based Tigers In America helped coordinate numerous parts of the rescue as well as funded thousands of pounds of fresh food and medical care for the cats over a number of days leading up to their transport. Organization president William Nimmo traveled with the rescue team in order to continue coordinating logistics along the route.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary specializes in rehabilitating large carnivores and providing them with large acreage habitats to live in.
Lions and Tigers can live up to 23 years in captivity, so at 15 years of age, Lambert and Tasha Joy will have the opportunity to join others of their own species and roam freely during the remaining years of their lives.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a 789-acre refuge for more than 450 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other carnivores rescued from abusive situations.
Saipan Tribune archives show Aldan relating that Soudelor heavily damaged the zoo and that re-opening it would “take years.” The story was reported in late September 2017, two years after Soudelor.
Samaritan’s Purse flew to Saipan just a few days after Super Typhoon Yutu. Using the same DC-8 cargo aircraft, it brought in over 80 tons of relief supplies to accommodate over 6,000 households on both Saipan and Tinian.
The organization’s supplies included tarpaulins for makeshift roofs, generators, solar lights, and water filtration units. The organization also brought in a medical team. (With PR Newswire)