I shared a ride on a plane with a lion

Kazuma. This is an article of mine that was published in 'Feline Conservation Federation" July/August 2012

Kazuma rescued from Guatemala.
Kazuma rescued from Guatemala.


I shared a ride on a plane with a lion

An African Lion traveling on our plane, Delta Airlines Flight 456 leaving Guatemala at 1.47 pm for Atlanta on Saturday 7th January 2012…How unbelievable was that !!

Borne of a curiosity for a strange video recorder stowed carefully in the overhead bins in business class by two gentlemen; I became party to an incredulous story of the rescue of Kazuma a male african lion from the grip of a fly by night roadside circus owner in Guatemala.

Arriving in Atlanta we all stood waiting to see which door we would have to exit out of. As we waited I struck up a conversation with one of the gentlemen dealing with the video camera asking him if he was on ‘location.’ His reply totally amazed me. He told me that they had a rescue lion on board that had been mistreated in a roadside circus near Antigua, and that they were taking him to a permanent home on a sanctuary referred to as a preserve in Alabama, USA. He told me that the lion had been resting since June in quarantine at the Guatemala Zoo (La Aurora) which is fairly close to Guatemala Airport. Kazuma’s health was slowly improving and he had gained 75 pounds.

As tourists we had walked around the perimeter of the zoo. Some locals were gazing over the wall but we did not see what the interest was. We had also traveled to, and around surrounding areas of Colonial Styled Antigua, and Lake Atitlan, a beautiful area surrounded by mountains and cute little traditional towns.
The more I discovered about the story of Kazuma, the more uncanny did the coincidences seem as we had traveled in his footsteps.

Kazuma first believed to be four years old is now thought to be between eight and twelve years old. He has spent most of his short life underfed and in cruel conditions in a cramped cage on the back of a pick up truck. The state of his health was a huge concern.

After contacting Susan Steffens,executive director of ‘Tigers for Tomorrow’ (whose life work and passion is the well being of the animals on her preserve) I was filled in on the details of the rescue.

Steffens said that she was contacted in July by the Guatemalan Animal Rights Avocates as they were looking for a permanent home for Kazuma where he can live out the rest of his life peacefully. During the first week of November Kazuma was released to the preserve and the race was on to get the paperwork completed and to raise the $40,000 – $50,000 needed for the process of relocating him to his new home. It was important that Kazuma be in his new home by the end of the year so he can acclimatize to the colder climate before the cold weather set in. Guatemala has spring like weather all year round. $10,000 worth of needed materials were donated to build Kazuma’s enclosure, den box and jungle gym. The whole community has been involved in some way or another to bring him home on time. Crossville Elementary School raised around $1,000.00 for the cause and have adopted Kazuma as their school mascot. A sign to this effect is to be attached to his enclosure. A grand home-coming party was arranged.

Steffens was touched by the warm welcome that they received from the Guatemalan people who were so happy that their government had stood up for the rights of Kazuma so that he was confiscated from his owner. It is felt that a precedent has been set which will affect the plight of other wild animals in similar conditions.

CONAP (the same type of agency as the US fish and Wildlife) warned the owner of Kazuma that he had to improve his conditions or he would be prosecuted for animal cruelty. The owner of the circus left the area near Antigua and disappeared.

CONAP relocated the circus one year later near Lake Atitlan in Panajachel. With the help of another animal agency a trial began. CONAP negotiated for Kazuma to be sent to La Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City. The judge’s order was for Kazuma to be confiscated and the Circus owner to spend 10 days under arrest. At this point The lion was still at the circus. Before the order could be executed the circus owner ran off taking Kazuma with him.

The circus was once more located by CONAP one year later in the city of Jocotenango, near Antigua. CONAP already having the judge’s order called the police and had the lion removed from the circus and taken to La Aurora Zoo.

So many people have been involved in the process to improve the plight of this lion. Truly amazing !

Kazuma’s departure from Guatemala was delayed a few days because his traveling crate would not fit onto the scheduled plane. It took a few days to arrange to fly in a bigger plane. It was not necessary to sedate him for the journey. Kazuma was hungry and some food put into the traveling crate enticed him to enter. It was necessary to limit his intake of water for the journey. His last drink was at 9am. Once he was unloaded in Atlanta it was a priority to give him some water. Everything was planned to run like clockwork so that there was no more suffering for Kazuma. The journey by truck from Atlanta, GA. to Attalla, AL was approximately 2 1/2 hours.

Kazuma did not quite make it to his new home by the end of the year as planned. However it was a very joyful New Year to bring him home during the first week.

Home now is : ‘Tigers for Tomorrow’ at Untamed Mountain, a sanctuary for exotic animals who have lost their home for one reason or another. Steffens has a huge emotional investment in her animals. They are her life. She has a young black bear who is a year old with whom she plays and gives cuddles. Steffens is one incredibly special lady.

If you would like to visit the preserve or send a donation you will find it at :

708 County Road 345,
Attala, AL 35954 USA
524 – 4150
website www.tigersfortomorrow.org
I have to warn you that Steffens takes the welfare of her animals extremely seriously. The taking of photographs may spook the animals so you may only take photos if you are led on a tour by a member of staff.

I am so moved by this rescue story, that it is so wonderful to know that good things still happen in this world !

Quarantine enclosure in Guatemala Zoo
Quarantine enclosure in Guatemala Zoo
loaded on the truck for trip to Guatemala Airport
loaded on the truck for trip to Guatemala Airport
Being loaded onto the plane.
Being loaded onto the plane.


Photos provided by ‘Tigers fro Tomorrow.’

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