Biggest Airlift in History Returns 33 Circus Lions to Africa

“Operation Spirit of Freedom” to take 33 lions from 10 circuses in Peru and Colombia back to their native land in Africa.

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Animal Defenders International (ADI) will orchestrate the biggest airlift in history today by transporting 33 lions from 10 Peruvian and Colombian circuses to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Thanks to the the efforts of ADI—an animal rescue organization founded by husband-and-wife team Tim Phillips and Jan Creamer—several countries, including Peru and Colombia, have imposed bans on the use of wild animals in circuses. The organization—which has rehabilitated and relocated more than 100 former circus animals under Operation Spirit of Freedom—is chartering a Boeing 747 for the airlift to transport 24 ex-circus lions from Peru and nine from Colombia with an ADI veterinary team to the South African sanctuary. Once on the ground, the lions will be rehabilitated in the 5,000-hectare sanctuary that is already home to eight rescued lions and tigers, has a no-breeding policy, and is not open to the public. Creamer said, “When we visited Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, we knew this is a dream come true for ADI and, more importantly, the lions.” Sanctuary founder Savannah Heuser expressed her gratitude for being involved in such a groundbreaking operation. “I cannot start to comprehend the endless days [of] suffering that these animals had to endure,” Heuser said. “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.”

Photo courtesy of Animal Defenders International

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