The lions, who endured years of confinement in cages on the backs of trucks and a brutal life being forced to perform in circuses, are heading to huge natural enclosures at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.
The airlift in October will be the culmination of ADI’s work with the Governments of Peru and Colombia to eliminate the use of wild animals in circuses. ADI evidence of the abuse of circus animals in Latin America led to legislation banning animal acts and then ADI stepped in to help enforce the laws.
Almost all of the rescued lions have been mutilated to remove their claws, one has lost an eye, another is almost blind, and many have smashed and broken teeth because of their circus life, but they will retire in the African sunshine.
Jan Creamer, ADI President, who is leading the rescue mission in Peru, said: “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.”
ADI’s year-long Operation Spirit of Freedom, working with the Peru Government SERFOR and ATFFS wildlife departments, as well as police, has seen ADI raid circuses all over the country, facing violent confrontations, rescuing over 90 animals, travelling thousands of miles, and traversing the Andes with lions.
Nine ex-circus lions from Colombia will join 24 lions from Peru on the flight to South Africa. They are the first animals to be handed over following Colombia’s ban on wild animal circuses and taken into care by the CDMB regional wildlife authority in Bucaramanga. ADI assumed the lions’ care until the flight was finalized.
Home for the lions will be Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary set in 5,000 hectares on a private estate in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The sanctuary is already home to eight rescued lions and tigers in large acreage habitats of pristine African bush, has a no breeding policy and is not open to the public.
Savannah Heuser, founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary says: “Mahatma Gandhi once said; ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ The change that is being offered to these 33 lions will change their entire world.
Their 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.”
ADI is chartering a Boeing 747 to transport all 33 lions with an ADI veterinary team, direct from Lima to Johannesburg and is funding the construction of habitats for the lions at Emoya, ready for the arrival of the lions in late October.
Over ninety animals have been rescued during the ADI operation, which also provided assistance to the Peruvian authorities on the issue of wildlife crime. ADI is concluding a huge construction program for over 50 native wild animals rescued during the operation in two parts of the Amazon, including bears, six species of monkeys, coati mundis, kinkajous, and a puma.
Jan Creamer paid tribute to governments, wildlife officials and the public in Peru and Colombia: “Seeing these lions go home to where they truly belong will be a testament to the commitment of wildlife officials and the governments in Peru and Colombia to change the treatment of animals.”
Peru’s wild animal circus ban was passed in 2011, and between August 2014 and July 2015, the ADI team identified and raided every circus with wild animals. Some circuses went underground as the raids commenced, but were eventually caught. Only one circus reported to have a lioness is still to be found, which was pursued into Ecuador by the ADI team in July this year. Wildlife officials and the local ADI team are on alert should the circus reappear.
ADI previously enforced Bolivia’s animal circus ban, relocating many animals within the country and taking 29 lions to two sanctuaries in the US, and a baboon to the UK. ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom in Peru and Colombia has been an even larger undertaking.
Savannah Heuser: “We at Emoya are deeply honored and privileged to be part of such a massive operation. We salute ADI for saving animals and ending suffering. Let’s bring these 33 to Africa. Let’s bring them home.”
Moving the lions to Africa increases the flight costs, but it is the ideal home for the animals and ADI believes, the right thing to do. An appeal has been launched to meet the increased flight costs as well as the enclosures for the lions.
Jan Creamer: “We really need financial support for this move. It is more expensive to relocate these animals to Africa, but who can put a price on taking them home to where they belong? It also sends such a clear and important message about protecting wildlife in their natural habitats and ranges.”
Until their flight, planned for end October, the lions will remain at the ADI Spirit of Freedom Rescue Center near Lima, Peru, where they will continue their rehabilitation under ADI veterinary supervision and enjoying their with grassy play pens, but the best is yet to come!
Please donate now to help get the lions home www.ad-international.org/hometoafrica