Thirty-three lions rescued from “deplorable conditions” in circuses in Peru and Colombia are being flown over 7,000 miles today back to their homeland in the South African bush, according to Animal Defenders International, the group spearheading the operation.
Tim Phillips, Animal Defenders International co-founder, said rescuers faced incredible challenges in tracking down and rescuing the lions from illegal circuses in Peru and Colombia.
The lions’ journey marks the conclusion of Operation Spirit of Freedom, a mission started by ADI in partnership with the Peruvian and Colombian governments to enforce the ban on wild animals in circuses and crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking, ADI said in a news release earlier this week.
Circus animals are banned in the countries, but many traveling circuses operate in remote areas and moved underground after the laws went into effect. ADI teams worked with government authorities to find and seize the animals.
Many times they were accompanied by SWAT teams and riot police in order to secure and rescue the animals. They then had to transport the lions back from remote areas in the Andes and back to their rescue centers.
It was an effort that took 18 months to accomplish! Of the 100 animals saved, 33 were lions. These majestic big cats have endured a lifetime of suffering, confined to tiny cages, maltreated, and mutilated. Arrangements were made to fly them back to their land of origin – Africa!
Sadly, the lions will never be able to survive on their own because of their physical condition. Many have had their claws removed and their teeth smashed. “They can’t go back to the wild but they can go back home,” Tim said in an interview.
The lions will live out the rest of their days in peace and freedom at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, South Africa.
“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,” Savannah Heuser, founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, said in a statement.
The operation has rescued over 100 animals, including the 33 lions were who were found “living in deplorable conditions in cages on the backs of trucks,” ADI said.
Unfortunately, almost all the lions “have been mutilated to remove their claws, one has lost an eye, another is almost blind, and many have smashed and broken teeth,” the group said.
Tim said bringing the battered, old lions back to Africa is one of his proudest moments.
Wait until you hear the lions roaring behind him at 2:56 in the video below. It’s as if they know they are back home!
“This is their birthright,” Heuser said in ADI’s news release. “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.”
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