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The biggest circus lion rescue of its kind just happened, and it was epic.

An animal rights activist spent over a year fighting for the biggest transcontinental lion rescue ever.

The biggest circus lion rescue of its kind just happened, and it was epic.

The circus can be a really cruel place for animals.

You might think the lions and tigers (hopefully not bears — oh my!) performing in circus acts are tough, wild beasts doing just fine, but we’re starting to understand that these magnificent creatures are actually treated really poorly.


All photos courtesy of Animal Defenders International, used with permission.

Paws.org describes life as a circus animal as “a monotonous and brutal routine of boredom, stress, and pain.” The animals spend virtually 100% of their lives in chains or caged and are subjected to extreme forms of discipline, such as whipping, choking, and electrical shocks.

No living thing deserves to be treated like that.

But recently, an organization called Animal Defenders International launched the biggest rescue operation of its kind to save some of these animals.

Their small team, led by founder Jan Creamer, has been saving wild animals from cruel captivity all over the world since 1990.

All GIFs via Animal Defenders International/YouTube.

Creamer gets things done.

Over the past year, Creamer and ADI have rescued 33 lions from circuses in Peru and Colombia and slowly nursed them back to health.

Working with local governments, Creamer and her team investigated the biggest offenders of the countries’ wild animal trafficking laws.

They discovered 33 lions (and hundreds of other animals) being kept in conditions of extreme abuse and neglect. Nine of the lions were voluntarily surrendered by a circus in Colombia, but the rest had to be forcibly removed by armed government agents.

Many of the big cats were starving, with the tips of their toes cut off as a primitive de-clawing method, and some were even missing their teeth, so they couldn’t survive in the wild. The ADI immediately provided the lions with the medical care they needed.

But in addition to medical care, love and TLC were part of the lions' recovery plan too, and that included making sure the lions were all given proper names.

Meet some of these incredible animals:

Joseph

Rapunzel

Liso

You can meet all 33 of the beautiful cats here.

The lions needed a home, so ADI teamed up with Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa to create one.

After they fully recuperated, in late-April 2016, all 33 rescued felines were flown across the Atlantic Ocean toward freedom.

With fundraising partner GreaterGood.org, ADI successfully raised the more than $330,000 needed for the flight to transport the 33 lions back to Africa on a gigantic MD11F cargo plane (the flight was appropriately named Spirit of Freedom).

On the morning of April 29, the nine cats in Colombia were treated to a nice preflight meal.

You can see their whole journey in this video. The lions were loaded onto the Spirit of Freedom aircraft in Bogota.

Later that morning, the MD11F landed in Lima, Peru, to pick up its 24 remaining passengers.

By the time the plane landed in Johannesberg on the afternoon of April 30, the lions were (understandably) eager to see their new home.

As they were unloaded from the plane, Creamer held a press conference reminding reporters what these lions have been through.

She also explained what this entire rescue operation is for:

After that, it was just a day’s journey by car from the airport to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.

Once they reached their destination, the animals were unloaded from the truck one by one…

... and released joyously into their new habitat!

Our (big) feline friends are now feeling right at home in their sanctuary.

Photo by Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, used with permission.

Jan says, “[At Emoya] these animals will live in safety, in their natural environment and freedom from fear, pain and distress caused by humans. They will be cared for in a loving environment where they are respected and protected.”


Compared to what they’ve been through, this sanctuary is like a five star resort for the lions. Even better, the lion habitats will be steadily expanded as the lions become familiar with all their new free-space, and with each other.

Fingers crossed this leads to a new reality show called "The Real World: Big Cat Sanctuary on Animal Planet" ... but hopefully without any drama. These cats have had enough of that.

Hakuna matata!

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."