Next month 24 African lions rescued from circuses in Peru and 9 lions from a Colombian circus will board the biggest airlift of its kind, heading to a forever home in Africa. Rescued by Animal Defenders International, the lions will live at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, in huge natural bush enclosures, back in their native land.
Officials from Peru’s CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) wildlife department prepared the lions with microchips and export papers for their journey to South Africa.
The lions were anaesthetized by Animal Defenders International’s veterinary team for the procedure and given health checks — two lions received dental surgery.
“The lions don’t know that their lives are going to change forever – from years of suffering in circuses, they will live in natural bush enclosures under the African sun,” says Jan Creamer, president of the non-profit Animal Defenders. “This is like a person applying for a visa for the trip of a lifetime.”
“It is a long and complicated process to move large numbers of wild animals across international borders, especially in an operation involving three countries,” adds Creamer. “We are grateful for the collaboration of officials in Peru, Colombia and South Africa to make this happen for these lions. It can only lead to stronger animal protection law enforcement in future.”
Following a ban on wild animals in circuses in Peru, Animal Defenders International has undertaken a year-long enforcement operation with Peruvian Government wildlife departments SERFOR and ATFFS. Every circus with wild animals has been tracked down and the animals removed, often during difficult confrontations. The organization has also assisted officials with confiscations and re-homing of illegally trafficked wildlife.
In recent months, Animal Defenders International has been building habitats and relocating dozens of animals to their native environments as part of Operation Spirit of Freedom. Pilpintuwasi Amazon Animal Orphanage is now home to almost 40 more monkeys, kinkajous, and coatis. The animal rescue organization has relocated Cholita the bear, a mountain lion, several monkeys and a macaw to Reserva Ecologica Taricaya in Tambopata. Animal Defenders International continues to fund the care of all of these animals.
The hub of the huge operation has been Animal Defenders International’s Operation Spirit of Freedom Rescue Center near Lima, which holds kitchens, a veterinary field hospital and animal care facilities including grassy play areas for the lions. At the peak of the operation it was home to 60 wild animals, and it was here that the lions were micro-chipped.
The conclusion of this complex operation involves flying nine African lions from Colombia to Peru, ready to join the Spirit of Freedom flight to South Africa. These lions are the first animals to be handed over following Colombia’s ban on wild animal circuses. They were taken into temporary care by the CDMB regional wildlife authority in Bucaramanga and Animal Defenders International has been taking care of them until they can join the 24 lions in Peru for their incredible journey to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.
“These lions have all endured sad, painful and terrible lives, but the new laws in Peru and Colombia have set them free,” says Creamer. “We are looking forward to taking them back to their homeland to retire in peace, living the rest of their days under African skies.”
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