by Len Lear
Gigi Glendinning, founder/director of the local humane education group, 22reasons, which participates annually in Chestnut Hill festivals, is hosting two screenings of “Lion Ark,” a film about the dramatic rescue of 25 lions from circuses in Bolivia and their amazing journey to a sanctuary in Colorado, in the next few days.
The screenings of “Lion Ark,” followed by Q & A, will take place Thursday, April 23, 7 p.m., at the Ritz Five, 214 Walnut St., and closer to home on Sunday, April 26, 10 a.m., at the Ambler Theater, 108 E Butler Ave., Ambler. (Tickets are $10 at the box office. All ticket sales support Animal Defenders International’s current rescue operation in Peru.)
Described by critics as “uplifting” and “the feel-good movie of the year,” “Lion Ark” has taken the film festival circuit by storm, winning eight awards at sell-out screenings and securing an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding International Motion Picture.
What is engaging audiences in a new way is that “Lion Ark” is more action adventure style than traditional documentary. The film tells the story of a team from Animal Defenders International (ADI) that secured a ban on animal circuses in Bolivia, and then, when the circuses defied the law, set about rescuing every animal.
Circuses that defy the new law are tracked down, animals saved, and a joyous finale sees 25 lions airlifted to freedom. The “Lion Ark” rescue was funded entirely by donations.
(“Lion Ark” director Tim Phillips, ADI vice-president; and producer Jan Creamer, ADI president, are currently in the middle of another huge rescue in Peru which will see 33 lions, 33 monkeys and many other native wild animals rescued from circuses by ADI and flown to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.)
Glendinning’s organization, which does a great deal of educational work in area schools, has also been very active on the issues of captive whales and the use of animals in traveling circuses as well as zoo elephants in small spaces and cruel conditions.
Specifically, Gigi points to the upcoming circus at LuLu Temple on Butler Pike next month. She says LuLu’s circus is a prime example of how animals are severely confined and forced to perform for entertainment and profit. “For the last five years I have been photographing the animal conditions at the LuLu Shriner’s circus,” she said. “Not only is it terribly inhumane, but there are serious public safety risks.” In 2014, Gigi and three of her 22reasons students (SCH Academy 7th graders, Carlo Filippini, Sante Filippini and Alex Johnson) presented evidence to the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors and requested they amend the local ordinance to prohibit exotic and wild animal acts from stopping in the Township.
And last month State Sen. Daylin Leach, who represents parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties, introduced legislation designed to ban the use of animals in traveling circuses, stating: “In the past few years, the public learned about the suffering endured by circus elephants. The outcry, including my bill to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants, was so great that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus decided to phase out the use of elephants in its shows.
“Elephants are not the only circus animals that are suffering. To maximize profit, traveling exhibitions use grueling itineraries that force all of their animals to endure cramped living quarters, limited social interaction and perpetual stress. Circuses hide this suffering from audiences, who witness only the power and grace of these magnificent animals. The secret is out. The public will not tolerate this unconscionable cruelty any longer.”
Gigi, 47, is a member of a long-time Chestnut Hill family. She and her brother, Andrew (now a Lafayette Hill contractor with three children); her sister, Ellen (now a freelance accountant in Lafayette Hill with two children); and her brother, Bruce (now a regional manager for Prudential Fox and Roach, living in Flourtown with two children); all grew up in Chestnut Hill with their mom, Sandra, now a resident of The Hill at Whitemarsh; and their late father, Robert, a prominent realtor with an office on Evergreen Avenue (and frequent contributor to the Local).
They lived successively in houses on Prospect Avenue, then St. Martin’s Lane, then Auburn Avenue in Wyndmoor and finally, in a Woodward house on Mermaid Lane. Both sons went to Chestnut Hill Academy, and both daughters went to Springside School.
“My dad never went to college himself,” said Gigi, “but he provided us all with great educations. We were very lucky. By buying and then selling the houses we lived in, that’s how he paid for all of our college tuitions.” (Robert Glendinning died at 75 in 2008 of Alzheimer’s Disease.)
After graduation from Springside in 1985, Gigi went to St. Lawrence University in New York state. Then she drove to Seattle with two friends from Wyndmoor, Elizabeth Harris Mellon and Betsy O’Neil, and lived there for a decade. “I heard there were mountains and lakes, so it sounded good to me,” Gigi said.
Gigi was an art major in college, but on the west coast she became a licensed massage therapist, and eventually she was trained in Colorado in equine massage therapy. In 1999, she moved back to the Chestnut Hill area “to be close to my seven nieces and nephews and to work on horses here.” Gigi bought a “shoebox” in Gwynedd Valley on one-and-a-half acres of ground. “Horse massage was great; there is nothing like having a huge animal drop its head and smack its lips and lean into you while enjoying the massage.”
Gigi got gradually more and more involved in animal-related issues and eventually started her non-profit organization, 22reasons. In 2005 she went to New Orleans twice, once for 10 days and again for five days, to do rescue work with animals made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. In 2003 she spent three weeks in Kenya, East Africa, with Earthwatch in a program to try to save black rhinos; the same year she spent two weeks in Washington state working with chimpanzees who had been “retired” from research. In 2006 she volunteered with the highly respected Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
Closer to home, Gigi has trapped, neutered and released feral cats living at Sunnybrook Golf Club, keeping the colony from multiplying out of control. And in 2007 she happened upon 44 rabbits jammed in hutches in a local backyard. “It was straight out of Animal Cops when I saw the bunnies,” she said. “So many of them were being forced to live in their own waste.” Fortunately, the man raising them welcomed Gigi’s help and was willing to let her find homes for 22 of his lot of 44. The other 22 were sold by the man to a farmer to be killed for food. That’s where the name of her organization comes from.
For more information, call 267-467-0599, visit www.22reasons.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To assist ADI with its rescue mission, visit www.ad-international.org/SpiritofFreedom. To watch the trailer for “Lion Ark,” visit www.LionArkthemovie.com.