Lions rescued from circuses arrive at South African sanctuary

Lions rescued from circuses arrive at South African sanctuary

More than 30 lions rescued from circuses in Colombia and Peru have landed in South Africa where they will be released into a sanctuary for big cats.

The largest airlift of lions in history was completed as the big cats touched down at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, which carried out the operation, said: “These lions have suffered tremendously.

 “They lived in small cages on the backs of trucks for their entire lives. Some of them had their teeth bashed in with steel pipes in circuses in Colombia and Peru. Some of them had their claws removed.

“It is a wonderful feeling to bring them back to their home.”

Nine of the lions were surrendered by a circus in Colombia. The remaining 24 were rescued in raids on circuses in Peru by the animal defence group and officials enforcing a crackdown on wildlife trafficking.

The 33 lions will be placed in quarantine in enclosures at the 5,000-hectare Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater in northern South Africa.

They will be monitored by a vet for their first weeks, before being introduced to each other in a bonding enclosure.

Many of the lions were never allowed to have direct physical contact with other lions and have never been together without a fence or a cage separating them.

Due to their poor physical state, the lions will never be able to hunt again and will have to be cared for with food and water for the rest of their lives.

The enclosures will be fitted with drinking pools, platforms and toys to ensure the lions do not become bored, and will be steadily expanded as they become familiar with their new life.