A group of lions rescued from lives of forced entertainment in South American circuses are now enjoying the taste of freedom in a sanctuary in South Africa.
They arrived on Sunday morning after they were flown to their new home in their native land, the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, Limpopo, South Africa.
Writing on its Facebook page after transporting the 33 lions from Peru and Columbia where they were rescued from their deplorable conditions, Animal Defenders International said the lions had “spent their first night under the African skies and like the ADI and Emoya teams are still feeling a little fatigued from their epic journey.”
The post went on to say “words cannot express how fantastic it is to see the lions home, where they belong”.
“After a lifetime of suffering in tiny, bare cages, poor (or no) food, being beaten to perform, their teeth smashed and their toes cut off to stop their claws growing, these animals will enjoy freedom,” ADI said.
The organisation said the lions were familiarising themselves with their new environment in their bonding groups, while the organisation prepared huge habitats for the families to “live out the rest of their lives”.
The lions had been bred in captivity, and had not walked or played on grass before, it has been reported.
ADI said the new homes will have acres of natural bush, a separate habitat for each family or pair with watering holes, platforms, trees, vegetation all safely secure behind double electric fencing to prevent other animals coming in.
The lions will first be released into bonding camps, the largest enclosures the lions have ever known and where families will be reintroduced to one another and become familiarised with their new home.
There are two large family prides and several pairs and some who will be introduced to see whether they will form a family. Some of the older lions including ones named Ricardo and Joseph who both have sight problems, will be provided with ‘special needs’ type enclosures with anything that could harm them removed.
Set in 5,000 hectares of African bush on a private estate the sanctuary has a no breeding policy and is not open to the public, providing the rescued lions with peaceful retirement.
Jan Creamer ADI President said the move was a “dream come true”.
“We are delighted that these lions who have suffered so much will be going home to Africa where they belong. The climate and environment are perfect for them. When we visited Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary we knew this is a dream come true for ADI and, more importantly, the lions.”
The founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary Savannah Heuser, said the big cats lives were “forcibly wasted away in horrific tiny cages, the doing of mindless circus acts, I cannot start to comprehend the endless days suffering that these animals had to endure. They have a lot of lost time to make up for. They will live out the rest of their lives in a natural habitat, the closest they can ever come to freedom.”
Over the past 18 months, ADI has rescued and relocated over 100 animals, concluding with the 33 lions.
Peru's circuses have been emptied of their wild animals, after ADI campaigned for enforced legislation to protect animals, while Colombia has also passed legislation and has asked ADI to help with a further 75 exotic animals which remain with other circuses, and are now illegal.
Mexico has also passed their ban on wild animal circuses and ADI has been talking to officials about the arrangements for releasing those animals from the circuses.
ADI evidence of the abuse of circus animals in Latin America has led to legislation banning animal acts in seven countries across the continent. Each time a new law comes into force, the group says it offers to assist governments with enforcing the law and removing the animals from the circuses.