South Africa received 33 lions flown from Peru on Saturday. Each lion traveled at the cost of $10,000, in what animal rights campaigners called the largest-ever airlift of big cats.
The lions had been rescued from abuse in Peruvian and Colombian circuses after the use of wild animals in circuses was outlawed in Peru in 2011 and Colombia in 2013.
“All of the lions when they arrive from the circuses have health problems, parasites, disease,” said Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International (ADI), an animal rights charity that rescued the lions.
“All of their lives they haven’t had enough food, so they have long-term malnutrition problems,” she said.
In the months leading to their journey back home (Africa), the lions were kept at a refuge north of Lima, Peru where they were well fed and have regained good health.
Twenty-four lions were rescued in Peru while another nine were rescued from Colombia. The ADI Spirit Of Freedom Flight which brought the nine from Colombia picked up the 24 in Peru for a journey to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, South Africa, where they will start their new lives.
The lions had names like Zeuss, Shakira, Ricardo and Joseph.
“The lions will be in their natural habitat for the first time in their lives,” Creamer said. “They should fit right into that habitat. It’s the best environment for them.”
“These lions have endured hell on earth. Now they are heading home to paradise,” Creamer said.
At their new home, the cats will enjoy natural enclosures with drinking pools, platforms and toys.