The battle to determine the proper home for Kivú the lion has reached a new level. Officials of Fundación Pro Zoológicos (Fundazoo), the administrator of the Simón Bolívar Zoo, announced yesterday that they will do everything they can to maintain Kivú the lion at his current home in downtown San José.
Fundazoo Director Yolanda Matamoros said at a press conference Monday that the zoo will not move the lion from his current home as authorities have ordered.
Instead, they will keep trying to reach an agreement with the Environment Ministry (MINAE) and the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) to avoid the relocation of Kivú as, according to the zoo’s veterinarians, “it would be detrimental to the lion’s health.”
Officials from both ministries conducted an inspection of the lion’s cage in July and on Sept. 7 issued a report ordering to relocate Kivú, within two months, to a better space at the Santa Ana Conservation Center, a private refuge also managed by Fundazoo.
The new space in the refuge must meet international standards outlined in the Lion Care Manual from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the ministries stated.
Fundazoo filed an appeal against the relocation orders, but the ministries dismissed it, saying in a joint statement that there is no viable legal or technical argument to justify keeping Kivú at the zoo.
The two-month deadline to relocate the lion to a better home ended Monday.
Matamoros said that is not possible for Fundazoo to build an enclosure with the specifications required by the ministries “as it would represent an investment of at least half a million dollars.”
She said that Fundazoo officials agree with the ministries’ overall recommendations, however, and therefore outlined a plan to build a new space at the downtown San José facility. The space would be even bigger than the one required by the lion care manual.
“We were unable to do it within the two-month deadline, however, as we lack funding,” she said.
Matamoros told The Tico Times that one reason Fundazoo does not have the funds to build a better space for Kivú is because their main income source comes from visitor tickets, “and visitation in the past months dropped at least 50 percent, mainly due to all the news stories about the lion.”
She said that Fundazoo asked the ministries to extend the deadline to build Kivú’s new home, and also filed a complaint before an Administrative Court to overturn the relocation orders.
MINAE and MAG declined to comment on Fundazoo’s statements on Monday evening. In a written response, the ministries said only that they will issue an official response on Tuesday regarding the lion’s future and about Fundazoo’s legal complaint.
Environment Vice Minister Patricia Madrigal said in a Facebook post that “their only interest is to ensure Kivú’s well being and that they are not harassing Fundazoo or any other wildlife refuge.”
Matamoros said that in the coming days, Fundazoo will launch a fundraising campaign to allow them to build a new space for Kivú at the Simón Bolívar Zoo. The new enclosure would comply with all required regulations but, according to initial estimates, would cost some ₡100 million ($178,000).
She said that the ministries’ report demanded the new enclosure be at least 115 square meters, and Fundazoo’s proposed San José space would be of 225 square meters. It would also provide the lion with all appropriate conditions for his age and health status, she said.
Fundazoo architect Franco Alvarenga said that the new area for Kivú was designed following strict international technical criteria.
Among other characteristics, it would include safety elements for both the lion and zookeepers, a space for visitors separated by various layers of high resistance glass, and spaces for the lion to hide.
Alvarenga said construction would not take more than six months, once they have the funds.
Messages on the zoo’s social media sites earlier this year criticized the lion’s poor health conditions and his visible weight loss. The zoo responded that the lion lost weight as a result of being under full anesthesia during recent physical examinations.
Matamoros said Fundazoo staff discovered the lion’s health problems, including osteoarthritis in one of his knees, even before the ministries issued their report. They began medical treatment that they currently maintain.
“As of today I can say that Kivú has regained 90 percent of the health he had before the ministries’ evaluation,” she said.
Fundazoo veterinarian Randall Arguedas said on Monday that moving the lion to another location with different temperature, relative humidity and other environmental conditions than those in downtown San José could severely affect his health and would reverse the improvement he’s shown recently.
Arguedas said that Kivú was born in captivity and has spent the past 18 years living in San José climate. Therefore, they believe the best home for him is at the zoo.