It sounds like something out of a blockbuster thriller.
After spending nearly a dozen years performing in Peruvian circuses, Hoover the tiger was on the verge of being rescued. Wildlife officials in Peru and the U.K.-based Animal Defenders International (ADI) were set to seize the abused tiger, but circus owners caught wind of what was happening and went underground to keep the feline in their clutches. For eight months, rescuers searched for Hoover to no avail, working to enforce Peru's ban on wild animals in circuses. But then, they got a tip. They rushed in and found the sick, emaciated tiger.
For the past year, Hoover has been nursed back to health at ADI's temporary rescue center near Lima. Today he begins his journey to Florida where he will have a forever home at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. He'll arrive April 23, on his 12th birthday.
Hoover's rescue is part of ADI's Operation Spirit of Freedom, a plan in conjunction with the Peruvian government to enforce the wild animal bans in circuses. ADI's initial undercover investigation of circuses helped spur Peru's legislation. For nearly two years, the organization has been working to empty the circuses of their wild animals, caring for them and finding them new homes. Over 100 animals have been rescued.
This is Hoover's story
When Hoover was finally found, he was lethargic and thin, according to ADI reports. He had spent his entire life inside a small cage, except when he was taken out and forced to perform in the circus. He was the only surviving tiger out of a reported 12 or more that had died with Circo Africano, a circus in northwest Peru.
(Less than a day later, ADI officials also rescued a mountain lion named Mufasa that had spent 20 years chained to the back of a circus pick-up truck.)
Since he has been under the rescuers' care, Hoover has gained weight and become healthier. He's been given toys and exercise, food and attention.
Hoover's new home at the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa will be a large wooded enclosure with lots of trees, platforms and a spring-fed lake. It also has several dens, and plenty of toys will be scattered around for playtime.
"We are so happy to welcome Hoover and provide him with a safe, peaceful home at our sanctuary in Tampa," said Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin. "He will now spend the rest of his life enjoying the warm breezes of Florida, relaxing in the shady grass, lounging on his platforms and cooling off in our lake. He will literally be a world away from the abuse he suffered most of his life."
Here's a look at Hoover's new home: