Initially, an Animal Defenders International (ADI) two-year undercover investigation captured footage of animals being mistreated in circuses across Bolivia. The resulting backlash saw Bolivia introduce law 4040, the world’s first legislation banning the use of all animals in circuses.
The documentary Lion Ark reveals what happened next: after numerous circuses refused to surrender their animals, ADI returned to Bolivia to track them down and confiscate the animals. Specifically, 25 lions spread across the country were identified as needing rescuing, some of them fully-grown adults who had spent their entire lives inside filthy, cramped cages.
It’s rare to find a documentary quite as proactive and as directly involved as this one, an obvious benefit of ADI taking its own camera crews along on such missions. There is a rawness throughout which deprives the film of the slickness which accompanies big-budget productions, but crucially this allows the human stories of all the campaigners on the ground to stand out: especially those of Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips, president and vice president respectively of ADI.
Lion Ark has been extremely well received by film festivals around the world, with a string of Best Documentary wins behind it. It is certainly an extremely moving story, making no attempts to cover up the brutal conditions in which the lions are kept. With their lack of food, water and space, many are suffering physical and mental trauma, making the transformation which these animals go through once they are taken under ADI’s care as heart-warming as you could possibly imagine.
The film also sets a positive example for campaigners who want to gain more attention to their own work to follow. The clear message to viewers is that a small group of people can make a significant difference to international efforts such as animal welfare, even when the animals in question are adult lions thousands of miles away in South America. ADI keeps track of all countries who have since followed Bolivia’s lead by introducing domestic laws banning some or all animals from circuses, a movement started by its initial investigative work in Bolivia.
LION ARK directed by Tim Phillips, 91 minutes, 12A. For upcoming UK film screenings visit www.lionarkthemovie.com/screenings.