The largest-ever airlift of lions will begin on Friday as 33 of the big cats rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia return to their homeland in South Africa. The mission, organised and paid for by animal welfare group Animal Defenders International, will ensure the creatures live out their days in a sanctuary. ADI’s Tom Phillips described the rescue “as like a fairy tale”. He added: “It is going to be emotional leaving Peru. We’ve spent a lot of time here, we’ve become very attached to the country and the work we’re doing here.”
But it will be hugely satisfying to see these lions walking into the African bush, it might be one of the finest rescues I’ve ever seen
ADI’s Tom Phillips
The lions have suffered during their years in captivity - some have been declawed, one has lost an eye and many have broken or rotting teeth. The first group of nine will be flown from the Colombian capital, Bogota, on a McDonnell Douglas cargo plane which will pick up 24 more in Peru’s capital, Lima, before heading to Johannesburg. From there, they will be transported by land to their new home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, where it is hoped they will learn to love their large natural enclosures. Mr Phillips added: “It’s never happened before, taking lions from circuses in South America all the way home to Africa.”
These lions have endured hell on earth and now they are heading home to paradise. This is the world for which nature intended these animals for.
ADI president Jan Creamer