Thirty-three former circus lions feel the African sun on their backs and the grass under their feet after a life of squalor and abuse in traveling circuses in Peru and Colombia. The lions have made the incredible journey back to their birthplace after a herculean rescue effort by Animal Defenders International (ADI).
Tim Phillips, co-founder of Animal Defenders International, said rescuers faced incredible challenges tracking down and rescuing lions from illegal circuses in Peru and Colombia.
Circus animals are banned in these countries, but many traveling circuses operate in remote areas and have moved underground after the laws came into effect. ADI teams worked with government authorities to find and capture the animals, writes natureknows.org.
They were often accompanied by SWAT teams and riot police to secure and rescue the animals. Then they had to transport the lions back from the remote areas of the Andes and back to their rescue centers.
It was an effort that took 18 months to complete! Out of the 100 animals saved, 33 were lions. These majestic big cats have endured a lifetime of suffering, confined in small cages, abused and mutilated.
Arrangements were made to fly them back to their home country – Africa! Unfortunately, lions will never be able to survive on their own due to their physical condition. Many of them had their claws removed and their teeth broken. “They can’t go back to the wild, but they can go home,” Tim said in an interview.
The lions will live out the rest of their days in peace and freedom at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, South Africa.
“African sun, African night sky, African bush and sounds, clouds, summer storms, 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 .
Tim said bringing old, battered 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 like they know they’re back home!
Here is another video news from this amazing rescue operation with the lions taking their first steps outside in their new home.