In what is being called the “largest airlift of lions in history,” 33 lions have been transported from lives of mutilation and captivity to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.

The lions were rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia by Animal Defenders International (ADI), an organization that campaigns against animals in entertainment and other industries. The South American countries passed new laws banning the use of wild animals in circuses last year.

Photo via Emoya's Facebook page.

Photo via Emoya’s Facebook page.

According to ADI, nine of the 33 lions were “voluntarily surrendered” to the animal rights group by a circus in Colombia. The remaining 24 lions were liberated in “surprise raids” by ADI from circuses in Peru. “Almost all of the rescued lions have been mutilated to remove their claws,” the group wrote on April 25, “one has lost an eye, another is almost blind, and many have smashed and broken teeth so [sic] would not survive in the wild.”

With no lion sanctuaries in Latin America, ADI teamed up with GreaterGood to crowdfund the transportation of the 33 circus lions to the Emoya Sanctuary in Vaalwater, Limpopo, a province of South Africa. All 227,700 miles (a one-way trip for each lion) have now been funded, but the campaign remains open for anyone that wishes to donate to the ongoing care and feeding of the lions in their new home. Long years of physical neglect and abuse have left most of the lions incapable of hunting on their own.

According to 33lions.org, the big cat sanctuary is a 5,000 hectare private estate located on the southern tip of the Waterberg biosphere reserve and owned by the Heuser family. In addition to caring for big cats, the family raises cattle and sheep on their estate. With the arrival of the 33 lions, the sanctuary now holds 39 lions and two tigers.

“We are delighted that these lions that have suffered so much will be going home to Africa where they belong,” said Jan Creamer, President of ADI and the leader of the lions’ rescue operation. “The climate and environment are perfect for them. When we visited Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary we knew this is a dream come true for ADI and, more importantly, the lions.”

The sanctuary contains “acres of natural bush” for the lions to roam through, ADI reports, complete with “watering holes, platforms, trees, vegetation all safely secure behind double electric fencing.”

When the crated lions at last reached the sanctuary, they could be heard “roaring up a storm.”

“The lions are returning to where they belong,” sanctuary founder Savannah Heuser said in a statement. “This is their birth right. African sun, African night skies, African bush and sounds, clouds, summer thunderstorms, large enclosures in a natural setting where they can remember who they are.”

Profiles for each of the 33 lions can be viewed on Emoya’s official website here.

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One Response

  1. mousey53 says:

    I am glad these Lions are better off now but not soon enough. Remember not all circuses are bad. Some are bad and some are actually good and don’t abuse the animals.

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