33 Lions Rescued From Illegal Circuses Airlifted To Africa – Born In Captivity, These Big Cats Will Now Enjoy Freedom At Private Sanctuary [Video]

Over 30 lions were rescued from illegal circuses and airlifted to Africa. In one of the largest animal rescue and rehabilitation missions, these big cats have been transferred to a private sanctuary, where they will live for the rest of their lives. The animals were rescued by Animal Defenders International (ADI).

A cargo plane carrying a very special live cargo touched down at Johannesburg, South Africa. The plane was carrying 33 lions. These big cats were painstakingly rescued from illegal circuses over the course of a year. These circuses were operational in Peru and Colombia. ADI, the agency behind the whole rescue operation, is terming it one of the biggest lion airlifts of all time. Each of the rescued lion suffered for many years and was held captive in cramped cages for the amusement of people.

The operation, christened Operation Spirit of Freedom, was formulated to offer a new life to the abused lions. All of these big cats have a sordid tale of abuse and constant pressure to perform. By forcing these lions to live in filthy and cramped cages, the owners of these creatures displayed complete apathy to the wild animals. All of the rescued lions had been languishing in circus cages for many years. They were let out of their cages only to perform in front of a cheering and jeering crowd. Before being rescued, none of the animals knew what open grasslands were or what it meant to run free, shared Jan Creamer, president of ADI,

“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. This has been a really important mission because it has eliminated circus suffering in Peru, saving future generations of animals. Getting the animals home has been exhausting and exhilarating.”

Creamer added that all of the lions were born in captivity, reported Today. Moreover, they have been mercilessly de-clawed and quite a few had their teeth shattered to prevent any injuries to handlers. Hence their chances of surviving in the world are next to none. Even if the rescuers released these majestic creatures into the wilderness, where they actually belong, these lions wouldn’t know the basics about survival.

Fortunately, these lions won’t have to dance to the tunes of ringmasters or entertain a crowd for their next meal. These animals will now be housed at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, where there’s ample space to roam freely and relax in the African sun. Many of the lions even received dental treatment. These animals will undergo additional medical procedures after they begin their life at the sanctuary.

It certainly wasn’t easy to rescue the lions. ADI staff painstakingly tracked each and every animal, but had to play a game of cat-and-mouse with the owners since many circuses attempted to disappear to avoid giving up their most prized possessions, and crowd pullers. After being removed from clutches of the circuses, these lions spent a few days in temporary but relatively spacious enclosures, until all the formalities of their transfer to Africa were being completed.

Meanwhile, ADI raised funds to arrange for their transport to a sanctuary in South Africa, and ensured each animal was nursed back to health. Quite a few lions had injuries and many could barely walk. Undernourished and abused, these animals never even had a decent space to stretch their legs, reported Euro News.

ADI faced a daunting task since each lion’s airfare was estimated to cost $10,000. However, as soon as ADI requested, donations started pouring in from around the world and every lion got a confirmed ticket to freedom.

[Photo by Pablo Porciuncula/Getty Images]