33 Lions Airlifted to South Africa After Being Rescued From the Circus

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Source: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Source: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

After living a life full of harsh conditions, 33 lions are now safe and sound in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The lions, rescued by Animal Defenders International, were all previously part of circuses in Peru and Colombia. The cats will now spend the rest of their lives in a stress-free environment at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.

“We are waiting for nine lions that were rescued from a circus in Colombia,” Matt Rossell told Today. “We have 24 lions we rescued with the aid of the government in Peru.”

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The lions first came to their attention after a video was shot showing the mistreatment of the animals. The goal to save the animals has been in the works for a while, first starting as an undercover mission in Bogota, Colombia, and Peru.

“We shot video of the mistreatment of these animals in the circuses and presented the evidence to their governments,” Rossell said. “All the countries have now passed laws forbidding circuses from owning wild animals.”

Most of the circuses were cooperative about releasing the lions, however some secret raids were involved in order to save the animals from the harsh conditions.

“The lions are returning to where they belong. This is their birthright. 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,” founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, Savannah Heuser, said in a statement.

Due to the way they were treated in their previous homes, many of the lions will receive medical treatment once they settle in. Many of the lions had their claws removed and a few have some issues with sight, including one cat with a missing eye.

“One of the things that lions do in captivity is chew on the metal bars of their cages, and this lead to broken teeth that became infected,” said Rossell. “We have already performed dental surgery on a few of the lions while awaiting transportation to Africa, and more surgery is planned once they reach the sanctuary.”

Saving the lions wasn’t an easy and cheap task. Former game show host, Bob Baker, helped fund the trip with his community, GreaterGood. Because more money is needed in order to have sufficient long-term care for the lions, the company has created several fundraising campaigns at lionsbacktoafrica.org and 33lions.org.

“It is so exciting to have the lions home,” Rowena Balwit, a representative of ADI, shared with Today. “The lions are doing well and they are very excited to be in their new homes and being reunited with their families.”

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