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  1. ITV Report

Rescued ex-circus lions begin new life at South Africa wildlife sanctuary

More than 30 lions rescued from circuses in South America have arrived in Johannesburg to begin a new life at an African wildlife reserve.

The lions were rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia Credit: Reuters

Twenty-four of the big cats were seized from circuses in Peru as part of an operation by officials cracking down on illegal wildlife trafficking, while nine others were voluntarily surrendered by circuses in Columbia.

After their flight, then began the last leg of their journey - to South Africa's Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, a 5,000-hectare private reserve in Limpopo province.

The animals would not survive if they were released into the wild, as most of them have been declawed or have had their teeth smashed or removed. One is almost completely blind, and another is missing an eye.

A total of 33 lions were rescued in the operation Credit: Reuters
The lions were then taken to a reserve in South Africa Credit: Reuters

The flights were organised by charity Animal Defenders International.

At their new home at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, the lions will enjoy large natural enclosures situated in pristine African bush, complete with drinking pools, platforms and toys.

The lion habitats will be steadily expanded over the coming months as the lions become familiar with their new life and are introduced to each other.

– Animal Defenders International
Animal Defenders International organised the flights Credit: Reuters

Bears, monkeys and other animals were also freed in the operation, and have been rehomed in South America, while a tiger has been taken in to a reserve in Florida.

Both Peru and Columbia have banned the use of wild animals in circuses, but some persist.

Authorities are trying to tackle the trade and rehome all remaining circus animals.

The lions would not survive in the wild Credit: Reuters