The battle over Kivú the lion continued this week as officials from the Ministry of the Environment (MINAE) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) ordered his removal from public display at the Simón Bolívar Zoo in downtown San José, to reduce stress on the lion from his exposure to visitors just a few feet away.
The order, however, is at stalemate at least until the end of next week, pending the ruling of an Administrative Court on an appeal filed Monday evening by Fundación Pro Zoológicos (Fundazoo), the administrator of both the Simón Bolívar Zoo and the Santa Ana Conservation Center, a refuge west of the capital.
Environment Minister Édgar Gutiérrez confirmed that the lion will remain at the zoo for now as Fundazoo is challenging MINAE and MAG’s orders to relocate him to the Santa Ana refuge.
The group appealed on the grounds that the move to Santa Ana would be detrimental for the health of the 18-year-old lion. The deadline to relocate Kivú ended at midnight on Monday.
Fundazoo officials declined on Wednesday to address the ministries’ orders to take Kivú out of public display at the zoo.
Environment Vice Minister Patricia Madrigal on Thursday told The Tico Times that in the meantime, the ministry is drafting an official order to demand the zoo comply with experts’ recommendations to improve Kivú’s current enclosure as well as his diet, which now consists only of meat.
She said that a recent inspection of the Santa Ana Conservation Center showed that Fundazoo has not conducted any work on the new home for the lion that the government ordered be built, nor have improvements to his current cage in downtown San José been made. His diet has not been improved either, she said.
“It’s imperative to stimulate the lion’s instincts and one of the methods to do it is by feeding him meat with bones, feathers, fur and innards, not just meat,” Madrigal said.
New home offers
Minister Gutiérrez confirmed at yesterday’s press conference that the government has received three requests from organizations willing to provide Kivú with a new home and finally get him out of his cage for good.
Two of the requests are from private refuges — Gutiérrez declined to identify them — and the third is from U.S. investor David Patey.
The Utah native is well-known in Costa Rica as he, among other ventures, is the owner of Costa Rica’s current football champion Club Sport Herediano, and of an Africa-themed park in the province of Guanacaste where he is proposing to take Kivú.
But Fundazoo officials are reluctant to relocate the lion. Veterinarian Randall Arguedas on Monday said that moving the lion to another location with different environmental conditions than those in downtown San José could severely affect his health.
Bernando Jaén, the director of the National Animal Health Service, told The Tico Times that experts from that agency, MAG, MINAE and the National System of Conservation Areas will assess in coming days whether a relocation could in fact be harmful for the lion.
Vice Minister Madrigal said that the group also will conduct periodic inspections of Simón Bolívar to verify the lion’s health and the zoo’s compliance with the requested measures.
The zoo’s plan
Fundazoo Director Yolanda Matamoros said at a press conference Monday that her organization had requested a two-year period (25 months and 16 days, to be exact) to build a new space for the lion in his current home, following international technical criteria.
That time includes a period to conduct a fundraising effort to obtain the estimated ₡100 million ($178,000) the space would cost, she said.
Earlier this year, zoo visitors 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.
On Tuesday, Minister Gutiérrez said the government maintains that the lion does not have the necessary conditions at the zoo for optimum health.
“Keeping Kivu at the Simón Bolívar zoo means keep subjecting him to the stress of public visitation through his recovery and throughout the rest of his geriatric age,” he said.