The week Colombia saw two “Júpiters” in the sky


This is a story of two Ju?piters, both heavingly bodies of sorts, one a non-human and the other a non-human species.

Both made headlines last month in Colombia given the humanitarian subject matter of the news, beginning with “Júpiter,” a Boeing-767 aircraft that traversed the world to repatriate 15 nationals and foreigners from Wuhan, China, epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having departed Bogotá at 3:00 am Saturday, February 22, “Júpiter” headed north to Anchorage, Alaska, with a refueling stop at Scott AFP in Illinois. Commandeering the rescue operation with a cargo of medical supplies and cabin re-equipped with flatbeds was Coronel Eduardo Restrepo, accompanied by three other Air Force pilots. From a remote airfield facing the Baring Sea, the plane then departed on a 9-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean to Seoul, South Korea, where on arrival, the first images of the Colombian team surfaced on social media, holding a large tricolor in the main airport terminal.

Anticipation mounted in Colombia as the crew clearly were on the verge of reaching Wuhan, a city restricted to commercial air traffic and under civilian quarantine. Then, the waiting began with the start of a new week and no sign of passengers. As the saying goes: “No news is good news.” The Colombian Government did state previous to departure that “Júpiter” was authorized by China to land in Wuhan, sometime between Wednesday or Thursday, but with precise instructions that during the four-hour stop, the pilots were not allowed to disembark. Airplane tracking went blank and “Ju?piter” vanished from the radar.

With no updates on Operación Wuhan seeping through the media grapevine, the possibility that there could be a diplomatic obstacle in the repatriation process began sinking in, and journalists hounded colleagues: “Where is Júpiter?”

Then on Thursday, February 27, a thin yellow line appeared on FlightRadar 24, showing “Júpiter” approaching the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheik. The Colombian wide-bodied troop carrier had completed half of its mission and was on course to Madrid. Several hours later (after passing over Sicily and Sardegna), “Júpiter” landed at Torrejón de Ardoz airfield near the Spanish capital, and one official picture was handed-out to the press, none showing, however, what the plane looked inside, nor the faces of passengers.

As the nation welcomed the safe landing of “Júpiter,” that same Thursday at 10:00 pm, touching down at El Dorado, another Ju?piter was about to take to the skies, paws furled around the bars of his metal cage.

An African lion rescued as a cub from an impoverished circus required medical intervention by a team of veterinarians after showing signs of extreme weight loss and fatigue. Housed at the Villa Lorena animal shelter in a suburb of Cali, department of Valle del Cauca, for most of its adult life, “Ju?piter” in 2019 was handed over to a zoo near Monteri?a, Co?rboda, because according to conservationists back then, Colombia’s coastal weather “seemed more in keeping with the natural habitat of the animal.” Sadly, as often happens with species trafficked in captivity, Ju?piter fell into depression, and even though a legal case of “neglect” is being studied by animal rights groups, the now 19-year lion was flown to Cali to be looked after by Ana Julia Torres of Villa Lorena, his first caregiver.

Even though Júpiter appears to be recovering slowly from stress-related pathology, veterinarians at the Dagma recovery center have stated that the animal is suffering from terminal cancer. “We have obtained blood and urine samples, showing that the animal has hemolytic anemia in addition to a serious infection and liver failure,” said Delio Orejuela of Dagma.

During one week in which Colombians received loved ones from Wuhan and who have spend the last two weeks in quarantine – even the pilots – at the Villa Oli?mpica sporting complex in Bogotá, Ju?piter, the lion, has his days numbered, but can at least enjoy much-needed compassion from humans.


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