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33 Abused Lions Saved From South American Circuses Finally Heading Back To Homeland

Apr 27, 2016 10:51 AM EDT

Today's a good day for animal conservationists as 33 abused big cats from South American circuses are finally scheduled to head back to their homeland on the 29th.

Twenty four of the lions were from circuses in Peru while the others from Colombia. The rescue, performed by Animal Defenders International (ADI), came after both countries banned the use of wild animals in circuses.

According to the official statement of the Brisitsh nonprofit group, many of the lions rescued were in delporable condition - awfully mistreated, severely underfed and forced to perform tricks.

Highly social animal species such as elephants and large carnivores like big cats are amongst the most popular species kept in circuses.

"Almost all of the rescued lions have been mutilated to remove their claws, one has lost an eye, another is almost blind, and many have smashed and broken teeth so would not survive in the wild."

In the biggest lion airlift ever, the lions will be transported to the 12,000-acre Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa.

Emoya is a private reserve off limits to the public and has a no-breeding policy, unlike the country's big game industry, APlus reported.

ADI notes that "the first group of nine lions will be collected in the capital Bogota on a McDonnell Douglas cargo plane which will pick up 24 more in Lima before heading to Johannesburg."

"From there, they'll be transported by land to their new home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, where they will enjoy large natural enclosures."

With the initiative of ADI, funds to airlift the lions has been raised. And they are hoping that more people will donate. The estimated cost of the airlift is $600,000.

The heartbreaking death of Cecil the Lion last month prompted an international uproar over hunting endangered animals and highlighted the plight of these big, beautiful cats.

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