Former circus lions begin journey to South African refuge from Lima

Fri Apr 29, 2016 8:37pm EDT
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LIMA (Reuters) - A blind lion, one that is missing an eye, and 31 others that had worked in circuses began the journey to a South African wildlife sanctuary from Lima, Peru, on Friday in what their rescuers called "the biggest transfer of animals in captivity" ever undertaken.

“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," Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said in a statement. "It is the perfect ending to ADI’s operation which has eliminated circus suffering in another country.”

The organization said it rescued 24 of the lions in surprise raids on circuses in Peru. "They were living in deplorable conditions in cages on the backs of trucks.

"Nine were voluntarily surrendered by a circus in Colombia. 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 so would not survive in the wild," it said in the statement.

The lions are destined for the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in the African bush.

Eva Chomba, a veterinarian with Animal Defenders International, said the trip to Johannesburg would take about 16 hours with a stop in Brazil to refuel.

"We're going to take care of the animals throughout the whole trip. Three of us are going on the plane ... to tend to the animals' needs, to give them chicken meat and water because the trip is very long and they need attention," Chomba said.

"It's the biggest transfer of animals in captivity ever in the world," Creamer said before boarding the plane to accompany the lions.

Savannah Heuser, founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, said in the statement, “The lions are returning to where they belong. This is their birth right. African sun, African night skies, African bush and sounds, clouds, summer thunderstorms, large enclosures in a natural setting where they can remember who they are.”

(Reporting By Marco Aquino; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

A former circus lion looks out from inside its cage in Callao, Peru, as it is prepared for transportation to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Janine Costa