South Africa: 33 former circus lions roar after historic rescue

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The lions were rescued by US-based group Animal Defenders International (ADI) and returned to South Africa, their homeland

Johannesburg: 33 rescued lions that endured “hell on earth” at circuses in Colombia and Peru have been flown to South Africa to start a new life in a sanctuary, in the largest airlift of the big cats in history.

The lions, 24 from circuses in Peru and nine from Colombia, returned to their homeland through a cargo plane. Pics/AFP
The lions, 24 from circuses in Peru and nine from Colombia, returned to their homeland through a cargo plane. Pics/AFP

33 lions, 24 from circuses in Peru and nine from Colombia, rescued by US-based group Animal Defenders International (ADI) returned to their homeland after both South American countries banned the use of wild animals in circuses.

The long journey began on Thursday in Colombia where a caravan carrying the first nine lions departed the city of Bucaramanga for a 14-hour drive to Bogota’s international airport. From there, they were loaded onto a cargo plane and flown to Peru’s capital to pick up the remaining 24. Their flight to Johannesburg departed from Lima airport on Friday evening. They reached the sanctuary on Saturday.

They will be shifted to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary
They will be shifted to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary

They will be shifted to the 12,355-acre Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater. The ADI, which was behind the biggest of its kind operation, says almost all the lions have had teeth or claws removed at the circuses.

The lions will first be released into bonding camps, the largest enclosures the lions have ever known, where families will be reintroduced to one another and to become familiarised with their new home. The second phase of the release is the construction of habitats, 2.5 to 5 acres in size, with trees, platforms and watering holes.

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