Lions are some of the most beautiful animals on earth. Perhaps that's why generations of humans have been obsessed with hunting them or kidnapping them to perform in circuses. But, on Monday, one cargo plane carrying 33 lions from Lima, Peru, to Johannesburg, South Africa finally reversed that trend.
The lions, all rescued from illegal circuses in South America, were part of the biggest lion rescue effort Animal Defenders International (ADI) has ever organized.
Operation Spirit of Freedom, more than simply rescuing these majestic creatures from a life of captivity and suffering, will give them the chance to live the lives they were always meant to--in the wild and out of human hands.
On Sunday, they arrived at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, South Africa.
"Before ADI rescued them, these animals had never felt the grass beneath their feet or the sun over their heads. Yesterday, they were in the African bush," Jan Creamer, president of ADI, said in a statement. "This has been a really important mission because it has eliminated circus suffering in Peru, saving future generations of animals."
The year-long effort hit more than a few snags. Many of the circuses, which are banned in Peru, fled with the lions and hid from authorities in an effort to maintain their illegal operations. ADI worked closely with local authorities to find and account for the animals at enormous expense--roughly $10,000 per lion. But donations were raised from around the world to cover the costs.
After months in a rehabilitation facility, where they received the medical care they desperately needed but had been denied for so long, the lions were finally flown to a sanctuary in South Africa. Many of the lions were declawed and de-fanged by their captors, meaning they'll never be able to hunt the way lions are meant to. But they'll get to live the remainder of their lives in their natural habitat, free from threats by poachers and circuses.
"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," Savannah Heuser, founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, said in a statement.
If you'd like to support the care of these lions--or the rescue of others like them--you can make a donation here, or to ADI.
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