NOGENT-LA-PHAYE, France: Patrick Violas made his fortune in mobile phone stores before ploughing 25 million euros of his own money into a sanctuary for lions, bears and laboratory primates. Now he's planning an extension before a ban on circus animals comes into effect.
Violas, whose sanctuary is located about 90 kilometres (56 miles) southwest of Paris, said he had taken numerous phone calls from circus owners. He's also advises the government as legislation to phase out the use of wild animals in circuses passes through parliament.
"The circus owners ask us how much room we'll have, if they can reserve space," the Frenchman said at his sprawling refuge that counts Indian elephants and dromedaries among its residents.
One pair of lions were rescued from Spain where their owner paraded them for tourists to take photographs on beachfronts and in nightclubs. Their claws had been ripped out and they had no mane after being castrated at birth, Violas said.
In another enclosure, Canelle, a macaque subjected to experiments related to neurological disease for most of her 22 years, picked lice off another monkey.
She would have been euthanized if the sanctuary had not taken her in.
"Her life was taken from her for 19 years to work for humans, so, if we humans don't owe her a retirement, what are we doing on Earth?" he said.
There are some 80 travelling circuses in France with more than 200 big cats, elephants, hippos, wolves and other animals, according to the government.
Violas said he was one of three sanctuaries, not including zoos, able to look after wild animals, and the only one with spare capacity. The ban will be phased in over five years once the new law, now with the Senate, comes into effect.
Paulo Teixeira, a former circus trainer who now works at Violas' animal refuge said it was not straight forward separating a wild beast from its trainer.
"The government needs to make sure it knows what they will do with the animals once the law is passed," he said.
(Reporting by Manuel Ausloos; Editing by Richard Lough and Raissa Kasolowsky)