Friday, January 12, 2007
CALI, Columbia -- Through the bars of his cage, an African lion named Jupiter stretches his giant paws around the neck of Ana Julia Torres and plants a kiss on her puckered lips. It could be a kiss of gratitude: Since Jupiter was rescued six years ago from a life of abuse and malnutrition in a traveling circus, Torres has fed and nursed him back to health at her Villa Lorena shelter for injured and mistreated animals. "Here we have animals that are lame, missing limbs, blind, cross-eyed, disabled," said Torres, 47, who relies on donations and her own modest teacher's salary to run the shelter in a poor neighborhood in the southern city of Cali. "They come to us malnourished, wounded, burned, stabbed, with gunshots." Torres said her work rehabilitating animals began more than a decade ago when a friend gave her an owl that had been kept as a pet. Later, when she asked her students to bring their pets to school, she realized many families illegally kept wild fauna from Colombia's biologically diverse jungles in their homes. The number of animals under her care grew, and today Jupiter is among 800 recovering creatures at Villa Lorena - from burned peacocks and limbless flamencos to blind monkeys and mutilated elephants. Most of the animals are caged, though some, like iguanas, roam freely around the impeccably clean grounds enclosed by a 13-foot wall. Inside is a monument that the state governor dedicated in recognition of Torres' work. Torres said many of the animals were rejected as infants by their parents in the wild or found abandoned on the streets of Cali, a city of 2 million. Others were rescued from cruel treatment by owners. One mountain lion kept illegally as a pet had its two front legs cut off by its owner after it clawed a family member's face.
Torres said that of all the animals she has cared for, she is proudest of having rescued Yeyo, a now-deceased spider monkey who had suffered violent, drunken beatings at the hands of an alcoholic owner. "The monkey would scream every time it was beaten, until one day the police came and found the wall covered in blood," she said.
Two veterinarians saved Yeyo from death, though it lost an eye and its teeth from the abuse. Yeyo remained terrified of people, cowering in the corner of the cage at the sound of footsteps, she said. Torres said she opposes exhibiting animals in circuses and has therefore kept her shelter closed to the public. "We want the animals to live in peace," Torres said.
"All their life they were shown at circuses and shows - this is a paradise where they can finally rest."
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