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Late 2015, 33 lions were rescued by Animal Defenders International (ADI) from ten different circuses in Peru and Colombia and relocated to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in the Limpopo province. When the team arrived to pick up these magnificent creatures, they found them in a terrible state.
Almost all of the lions have had their claws removed, many had smashed teeth, one has lost an eye and another was almost blind. While the organisation initially planned to move the tortured animals to US sanctuaries, they were finally taken to Africa. Despite of the high flight costs, it was decided our lovely country was the ideal home for the lions and it was where they truly belonged. This event marked the peak of ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom, a mission which was launched in 2007 with the aim to save wild circus animals in South America and take them back home.
Releasing the rescued lions into their temporary enclosures was heartwarming to witness. This was the first time their paws have touched African soil, and as they were sniffing and exploring their new surroundings, you could almost sense them thinking: „Finally we're home where we belong.“
It's hard to imagine the kind of suffering these poor creatures had to endure, imprisoned in tiny cages and forced to participate in circus acts. Previously known only as „Blind“, when collected Joseph had much of his vision obscured by cataracts and needed special care. Iron was the first to be released onto African home soil, and when the door of his crate was initially opened, he just stood there wandering what's going on. When he finally ventured to go outside, Iron approached a tree and lovingly rubbed his head against it – something he's never had a chance to do before. Even if it was the first, he seemed to be greeting the tree as an old friend.
While initially vary, it took only a few days to see a major difference in the animals' behaviour. They have adapted quietly and quickly, even sooner than was anticipated.
At this point, the best which can be done for these tortured creatures is to provide a friendly natural habitat, as close as possible to freedom. Set in 5,000 hectares of African bush in Limpopo Province, the sanctuary will ensure the rescued lions enjoy a peaceful retirement they well deserve. It's a heartbreaking and heartwarming story at the same time. We can't stop admiring both the organisations and individuals who dedicate their lives to helping our fellow living beings. The good news is – every one of us can help, and each and every contribution to such efforts is well appreciated, however small. Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.“