More than 30 lions that were abused in circuses in Colombia and Peru will be airlifted back to a sanctuary in South Africa after donations to a British newspaper made it all possible, it was announced this week.

In August 2014, British charity Animal Defense International (ADI) began confiscating cats from a dozen circuses in Peru, after a ban on wild animal acts came into effect in that country. By February it was looking for sponsorship to transport 21 animals to a newly found home in the United States.

That’s when the Daily Mirror newspaper in the UK launched an appeal to its readers to contribute money.

“One of the most frequent wishes we get from supporters about ADI’s lion rescue in South America is ‘If only they could go back to Africa…’ Well, finally, they can!” ADI said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

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Part of ADI’s drive was to bring in 200,000 pounds to pay for the lion airlift.
Source: FB?Animals Defence Internationl

Following the Peru action, ADI also confiscated 9 lions in Colombia, after a similar ban on wild animals acts was imposed there.

All the South American animals were first meant to be sent to the United States, but are now going to the 5,000-hectare Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, halfway between Pretoria and Polokwane.

They will make their journey in October, Emoya said on its Facebook page yesterday.

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Two of the lions saved from a circus in Colombia.
Source: FB/Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary

ADI said its Operation Spirit of Freedom had already relocated nearly 40 monkeys and other native wildlife to jungle habitats in the Amazon where it would continue to fund their care. “Next we will take our 33 rescued lions, tiger, bear, puma and condor to their forever homes.”

ADI said the airlift of 34 cats to South Africa would be the biggest animal airlift of its kind, requiring not only a cargo plane (a Boeing 747) but also huge crates and veterinary services. After the plea for donations by the Daily Mirror, ADI said it was “overwhelmed” with donations to reach its £200,000 goal.

In its story announcing the airlift, the Mirror said most of the rescued lions had been mutilated to remove their claws, and one had lost an eye while another was almost blind. Many of them had smashed or broken teeth.

ADI president Jan Creamer, who is leading the rescue mission, told the Mirror: “We are delighted that these lions who have suffered so much will be going home to Africa where they belong.”

Watch the Daily Mirror video from February at the start of the rescue mission.