The story of the now famous 33 lions that went from circus cages to freedom, is told in a new video by Animal Defenders International (ADI), released today. Rescued by ADI from a life of suffering in circuses in Peru and Colombia, the feel-good tale of the lions’ journey to their forever home in South Africa has won the hearts of the public around the world. Many of the lions have suffered their toes cut off to remove their claws and broken teeth. They cannot be released into the wild but will instead have the next best thing, a wonderful life at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa where they can enjoy their very own piece of the African bush.
Watch the video: https://youtu.be/UuohsIhkO5Q
Jan Creamer ADI President: “It is a beautiful sight to see the lions in their native homeland, protected and free from their circus cages. These are the last wild animals to suffer in Peruvian circuses, it is over. We hope that the sight of these lions living in their natural environment will spur similar action to end circus suffering in the UK, USA and other countries.”
The lions were saved by ADI during an 18-month long Spirit of Freedom mission to assist the Peruvian Government with enforcement of a ban on wild animals in circuses. The law was secured following a four year campaign by ADI, preceded by a two year investigation of South American circuses, shocking the continent and instrumental to securing legal prohibitions on animal acts in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and others.
Over 100 animals have been saved during the mission, which saw ADI track down and raid illegal circuses as well as provide support on wildlife trafficking enforcement. Native animals including three bears and six different species of monkey were rehomed to Amazon sanctuaries in Peru, and a tiger to a sanctuary in Florida. Nine of the 33 lions were handed to ADI in Colombia after the country’s wild animal circus ban passed.
The animals were nursed back to health at ADI’s purpose-built temporary rescue centre near Lima. With care provided by a specialist veterinary team, some animals required emergency dental surgery and other treatments.
The lions’ journey to freedom took more than three days. On day one, the first nine lions were loaded into their travel crates in Bucaramanga, northern Colombia, and the same night 24 more lions loaded near Lima. After being trucked to Bogota airport, the Colombian lions boarded a huge MD11 aircraft chartered from ethical cargo company Priority Worldwide Services, joined by the remaining 24 in Peru. After a delay in Brazil the trans-Atlantic flight touched down in Johannesburg as night fell. Trucks donated by Ibubesi Transport Logistics and bearing the names of the 33, carried the lions to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, where they were released one by one, taking their first steps onto their native land.
For the first few months in their new home, the lions will live in “bonding camps” where they can become familiarised with their environment and families reintroduced. For the first time, the lions can feel the African soil beneath their feet and the sun on their backs, and enjoy the simple pleasure of rubbing against a tree. For phase two, the lions will be released into huge natural bush habitats with platforms and watering holes, for which donations are being sought as well as for the lions’ lifelong care. Donations to help fund the habitats and care for the lions for life can be made at www.lionsbacktoafrica.org/donate where people can also meet the 33 and find out more about the rescue and the lions’ new home.
The ADI rescue mission has been made possible with the support of many, including US TV legend Bob Barker’s DJ & T Foundation, who helped kickstart Operation Spirit of Freedom with a major donation. The cost of the lions’ first class ticket to freedom was largely funded through an online campaign by ADI and GreaterGood.com & The Animal Rescue Site, and more help came from Oakland Zoo, Bannerman and Spurlino foundations and many generous individuals including Dr. Lo Sprague & Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, Elise Zoli, the Facebook group ‘Lion Lovers’, and many more who donated the cost of the travel crates and the $10,000 air fare for each lion.
Ethical business Priority Worldwide Services arranged the massive MD11 aircraft to carry the lions to Africa and helped to get the lions home with discounted services; Johannesburg’s Swissport International provided airport services and helped to get the lions transported off the aircraft; fencing manufacturer Bonnox, Lood Swanevelder Fencing, Faan Venter, Ibubesi Transport Logistics, and Chill Box all helped with transport and facilities for the lions at their forever home at Emoya.
ADI and Emoya would like to thank the Peruvian Government departments, SERFOR and ATFFS, and Police and in Colombia CDMB, a regional wildlife authority in Bucaramanga for enabling this incredible operation to happen.