Back to their homelands: Rescued circus lions are returned to Africa

More than 30 lions were returning to their African homelands on Saturday after being rescued from a life of misery in circuses. The big cats, some of which had been blinded while in captivity, were due to land in South Africa after a 16-hour flight from Peru. They included Shakira, named after the Colombian pop singer, one-eyed lion Ricardo and Joseph, who is almost blind. The lions were due to be taken to a sanctuary in the north of South Africa where they will live out the rest of their days.

The lions are returning to where they belong. This is their birth right — 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

The animals were rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia by US charity Animal Defenders International, which organised their return to Africa. Eva Chomba, a vet with the charity said the trip to Johannesburg would take about 16 hours with a stop in Brazil to refuel. "We’re going to take care of the animals throughout the whole trip,“ she said. "Three of us are going on the plane… to tend to the animals’ needs, to give them chicken meat and water because the trip is very long and they need attention.”

This is a hugely important rescue mission because it does make a statement around the world about the way people treat animals

ADI spokeswoman Jan Creamer