(LIONS/WILDLIFE RESCUE) This Friday, 33 lions will begin their long journey from South America to South Africa. Collectively weighing more than five tons, the lions will be transported from circuses in Peru and Columbia to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa.

This move follows Colombia’s decision to prohibit circuses from using wild animals, as well as Peru’s ban on wild animal performances in circuses.

Animal rights group Animal Defenders International coordinated the overseas transfer, which is being referred to as the largest lion airlift ever. Read on to learn more about ADI’s efforts to negotiate the circus animals’ release, as well as their traveling plans for the rescue mission. — Global Animal

A former circus lion on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, on Tuesday. Thirty-three lions from circuses in Peru and Colombia are heading to a private sanctuary in South Africa. Credit Martin Mejia/Associated Press
A former circus lion outside of Lima, Peru. Phot Credit: Martin Mejia/Associated Press

New York Times, Jonah Bromwich

In what is being called the largest lion airlift ever, 33 circus lions — together weighing more than 10,000 pounds — will begin the long trip from South America to South Africa on Friday.

The journey is being coordinated by Animal Defenders International, an animal rights organization, which negotiated their release and is raising money to pay for their flight. They will be taken to Johannesburg from Lima, Peru, before reaching their final destination: the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa.

“These lions have endured hell on earth and now they are heading home to paradise,” Jan Creamer, the president of the rights group, said in a statement. “This is the world for which nature intended these animals for.”

Twenty-four of the lions are from Peru. They were rescued in raids on local circuses mostly over the past two years by the animal rights organization. The other nine, from Colombia, were surrendered by a circus there in 2014.

One of the lions in Peru — Smith — gained a measure of notoriety while in captivity for attacking a teacher in 2014. He was handed over to the organization soon afterward.

Colombia’s Congress passed a bill prohibiting circuses from using wild animals in 2013, but allowed a two-year reprieve before enforcing the law. Peru banned circuses from including wild animals in performances in 2011.

The lions — 22 males and 11 females — will be taken on pallets, and most will be kept in a single cage in a cargo jet, according to Christina Scaringe, Animal Defenders International’s general counsel. They will be organized by family groups and will be placed so they face others with whom they get along to ensure that they stay calm for the duration of the trip.

The lions will be taken care of during the trip by a team from Animal Defenders International, which will provide them water and meat.

Ms. Scaringe said the flight would take 14 to 15 hours, with a brief stop in Brazil to refuel the plane and change flight crews.

Continue reading the full New York Times article, here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/world/africa/33-lions-airlift-south-american-circuses-to-african-sanctuary.html