Thirty-three lions who lived under awful conditions in South American traveling circuses have only one more trip to make, and it will easily be the best one of their lives. Next month, they will be airlifted to a sanctuary in Africa by the group that not only rescued them but got laws passed to outlaw the use of other big cats in such circuses, reports GlobalPost. The rescue is the largest of its kind, says Jan Creamer, who led the mission for the UK group Animal Defenders International. The lions are headed to the 12,000-acre Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa's Limpopo province. Freeing them outside the sanctuary isn't an option because they likely wouldn't make it in the wild. “Most of them have had their toes chopped off and their claws," Creamer tells the New York Times.
They also have "smashed teeth because when [circus workers] handle the lions and want them to do something, they hit them in the face with an iron bar." ADI documented the abuses with video and used the evidence to force new laws in Peru and Colombia. Then it was a matter of actually rounding up the animals. ABC News recounts one such rescue in Peru in which ADI staffers tracked down a family circus but ended up outnumbered by circus employees. Things looked bleak until the local prosecutor arrived with reinforcements. It's "a bit like the cavalry coming," says Creamer's colleague, Tim Phillips. (The American dentist who set off a firestorm by killing Cecil the Lion in Africa is back to work.)