In what was its largest rescue mission to date, this past April the Animal Defenders International (ADI) orchestrated the transport of 33 former circus lions from South America to South Africa. The animal rights group works to place animals in their natural habitats, and saving 33 lions from their sad fate as circus performers was no easy feat. After an arduous journey, the lions arrived safe and sound to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa, where many of them had a taste of the great outdoors for the first time in their lives.

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ADI and other animal rights groups have made huge strides of late to improve the lives of animals that have been forced into captivity and circus performing. The conditions these majestic creatures were forced into is horrendous, with frequent physical abuse and living quarters in cramped cages. These lions often endured having their claws and teeth removed so that their trainers could “work” with them without being maimed. Luckily we’ve seen many countries ban circus performing for live animals in the past few years, including Columbia and Peru, where these 33 lions were rescued from.

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So how are the lions doing in their new 5,000 acre home in Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary? Judging by the ADI’s Instagram feed, I’d say these big cats are finally at peace, and rightly so.  Reintegrating Africa’s majestic animals is a global effort, and while South Africa’s rhinos are still in plight, it’s encouraging to see these 33 lions thriving in their new home. Read more about their amazing rescue and ongoing rehabilitation at