After 12 years living in a circus cage and enduring terrible abuses, Hoover the tiger is finally free. He was rescued from a circus in Peru last April, where he had been enslaved his entire life. Circus trainers whipped and beat him, forcing him and up to 11 other tigers to perform on demand. After a year being nursed back to health by his rescuers, Hoover now lives in southern Florida, where he will enjoy warm breezes and shady grass for the rest of his life at a natural woodland sanctuary shared by other rescued tigers.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) released the above video, which begins with a peaceful scene showing Hoover at his new home at Big Cat Rescue wildlife sanctuary near Tampa. Hoover creeps cautiously toward a natural pool in a wooded area and, with trepidation, the big cat dips his toes into the water. It is perhaps the first time Hoover was ever able to experience nature directly after a lifetime at the circus. (For our readers who are sensitive to violence against animals, be aware that the above video contains graphic scenes after 0:30.)

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Hoover’s freedom was hard-won. Animal rights activists were able to secretly film the abuses and alert Peru’s wildlife department, SERFOR (Peru’s forestry department) and police. The circus attempted to evade the law by hiding in the mountains for eight months. Eventually, authorities caught up to them and, in a surprise raid, Hoover was rescued by ADI.

Unfortunately, the other 11 tigers in Hoover’s original group perished prior to the raid. Little is known about how or when each one passed away, but Hoover’s poor health and undernourishment suggest the other tigers may have succumbed to their handlers’ neglect and abuse.

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“Hoover was very lucky to survive,” said ADI President Jan Creamer. “His last cage mate had died before we could get to him. We were very grateful for the public support and information that helped us to track the circus down, now he can live in peace in his wonderful new environment.”

+ Animal Defenders International

+ Big Cat Rescue

Images via ADI