After A 15 Hour Plane Journey, These 33 Lions Are Finally Free From The Circus

On Saturday April 30, thirty-threelions rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia landed back home in South Africa after a 15-hour flight.

ROARING up a stormPosted by Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary on Saturday, April 30, 2016

They were welcomed into their new forever home at theEmoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa, where they can nowroam around12,000 acres of their natural habitat.


Source : @Animal Defenders International

The animals had been captive in illegal zoos in Peru and Colombia, but were rescued by the associationAnimal Defenders International (ADI).ADIorganised the 18-month rescue mission, one of the most ambitious operations of its kind, namedthe "Spirit of Freedom Flight".It was the largest animal rescue airlift in history.



Source : @Animal Defenders International

Jan Creamer, ADI President, wrote on their Facebookpage:

They have lived a life of absolute hell. They've been beaten and they've been starved... I believe we have brought them back to paradise, where they belong.

Indeed, the captive animals were found in horrific conditions. They spent their lived suffering intiny, bare cages, being forced to perform in inhumane conditions:

Source : @Animal Defenders International

In 2010 and2013 respectively, Peru and Colombia passed a law forbidding the use of wildlife in the circus. But many illegal circuses have still been in operation, which is whyAnimal Defenders International had to step in.With the help of the police, they managed to force several illegal circuses to give up their captive lions.


Source : @Animal Defenders International

In their rehabilitation process, the felines will gradually be given more and more freedom in natural bush habitats.Since they have lived in separate cages all their lives, they will be kept apart at first and then slowly introduced to one another in a bonding enclosure before being able to roam in the giant enclosure where they can peacefully retire.Jan Creamer announced:

The lion habitats will be steadily expanded over the coming months as the lions become familiar with their new life and are introduced to each other. 

Source : @Animal Defenders International

But it's the photos of their arrival in their new home which are so moving. Below is a photo of one of the first lions to arrive who immediately rubbed against a tree"for the first time in his life", according toAnimal Defenders International.


Source : @Animal Defenders International

"I am so grateful to have them here finally, it's a dream come true," saidSavannah Heuser, who runs the Emoya Big Cat sanctuary.


Source : @Animal Defenders International

Watch some emotional footage of their rescue here:[embed][/embed]To help give these beautiful creatures lifelong care in their new home, you can make a donation to Lions Back To Africa.

Andrea A.