After a lifetime of misery and abuse in traveling circuses in Peru and Colombia, thirty-three former circus lions are feeling the African sun on their backs and grass under their feet. After a herculean rescue effort by Animal Defenders International, the lions made the incredible journey back to their birthplace (ADI).
Rescuers faced incredible challenges in tracking down and rescuing the lions from illegal circuses in Peru and Colombia, according to Tim Phillips, co-founder of Animal Defenders International.
Animals in circuses are prohibited in the countries, but many traveling circuses operate in remote areas and went underground after the laws were enacted. Natureknows.org reports that ADI teams collaborated with government authorities to locate and seize the animals.
In order to secure and rescue the animals, they were frequently accompanied by SWAT teams and riot police. They then had to transport the lions back to their rescue centers from remote areas in the Andes.
It took 18 months to complete the project! Lions made up 33 of the 100 animals saved. These majestic big cats have suffered for a lifetime, confined to tiny cages, maltreated, and mutilated.
They were flown back to their home country of origin – Africa! Unfortunately, due to their physical condition, the lions will never be able to survive on their own. Many have had their claws and teeth smashed. “They can’t return to the wild, but they can return home,” Tim explained in an interview.
The lions will spend the rest of their lives at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, South Africa, in peace and freedom.
Savannah Heuser, founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, said in a statement, “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.”
Tim considers bringing the battered, old lions back to Africa to be one of his proudest accomplishments. Wait until 2:56 in the video below to hear the lions roaring behind him. It’s as if they’ve realized they’ve returned home!
Here is another news video of this amazing rescue operation with the lions taking their first steps outside at their new home.