Lions previously held by circuses across South America were rescued and will be flown back to Africa, where they will spend the rest of their days in a safe sanctuary.

Animals don’t belong in a circus.

It almost seems like a fairy-tale ending – after spending most or all of their life trapped in circuses in appalling conditions, these lions will finally get the chance to leave in peace. The operation, which was organized and paid by Animal Defenders International will ensure that all of them are transported first to Johannesburg, South Africa, and then to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province.

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“It will be hugely satisfying to see these lions walking into the African bush,” said Tom Phillips, ADI’s vice-president, as he inspected the cages that will be used to transport the lions.

“It might be one of the finest rescues I’ve ever seen; it’s never happened before taking lions from circuses in South America all the way to Africa,” he added. “It’s like a fairytale.”

Few of the lions were in a decent shape. Many had been declawed, one had lost an eye and most had broken or rotting teeth. This was part of a bigger crackdown on illegal animal trafficking. Animal Defenders International writes:

“Over 100 animals have been rescued by Animal Defenders International and Peruvian officials enforcing the prohibition on wild animals and a crackdown on illegal wildlife trafficking.

Bears, monkeys, birds and other native wildlife have been relocated to sanctuaries in Peru, a tiger to Florida, and now, 33 lions are destined for Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.”

More and more nations are banning animals in circuses, specifically due to the inhumane conditions in which they are almost always kept. So far, the only countries which have completely banned animal circuses are Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and Bolivia, while several other countries have a ban on all wild animals: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Israel and Mexico. While the ending was fortunate for these 33 lions, many other creatures still await their rescue.

Jan Creamer ADI President said:

“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. It is the perfect ending to ADI’s operation which has eliminated circus suffering in another country.”