An animal rights group rescued more than 30 lions from abuse at circuses in Peru and Colombia and flew the animals to South Africa Friday in what it called the largest-ever airlift of lions.
Animal Defenders International (ADI), an American-based non-profit group, said almost all of the animals were abused while in captivity — some are declawed and have broken teeth. Another is missing an eye. Others, still, have health problems like parasites and disease, according to ADI President Jan Creamer.
“It’s truly wonderful that these lions, after a lifetime of suffering and abuse in circuses, are going home to Africa," she said. "All of their lives they haven't had enough food, so they have long-term malnutrition problems."
The lions left an airport in Lima, Peru late Friday night, and will arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa Saturday, at which point they will be released into the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, according to the ADI.
At the sanctuary “the lions will enjoy large natural enclosures situated in pristine African bush, complete with drinking pools, platforms and toys,” ADI said in a statement.
The lions were set free after Peru and Colombia banned the use of live animals in circuses in 2011 and 2013, respectively. The circuses in Colombia gave up nine lions voluntarily, but the rest of the lions in Peru were rescued only after police launched raids to free them.
In recent months, the lions have spent their days in cages in a refuge north of Lima, where they have been well fed and taken care of, Creamer said.
The trip cost about $10,000 for each of the lions, the ADI said, but for Creamer, the cost was justified.
“These lions have endured hell on Earth,” she said. “Now they are heading home to paradise.”