The largest airlift of lions is will take place today. The mission has been organised by British group Animal Defenders International (ADI), who will fly from Los Angeles to Bogota to collect nine of the lions before heading on to Lima to pick up the remaining 24. The animals will then fly to Johannesburg, where they will be transported by land to their new home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo.
The rescued lions were living in poor conditions and several had been declawed and are missing teeth. One lion, named Ricardo, is missing one eye and nearly blind in the other.
Founded by husband and wife team Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips in 1990, ADI carries out animal rescue missions all over the world. In 2005, the group sent undercover workers to circuses in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, where they spent two years working and secretly filming, recording and photographing the abuses the animals were forced to endure.
ADI released all of their findings in 2007, which lead to Bolivia placing a ban on the use of animals in circuses in 2009; Peru and Colombia followed suit a couple of years later. Circuses were given two years to phase out the animals, but according to Phillips, many of them had difficulty selling the animals to zoos because of how badly mutilated they were.
Despite the ban, Phillips and Creamer found the laws were not being enforced in Peru and Colombia – the countries did not have the resources to uphold the laws fully and circuses continued to use the animals. They worked with the governments of the countries to help enforce the laws by raiding the circuses to confiscate the lions, and were often met with angry mobs.