33 lions arrived in Johannesburg’s International Airport on Saturday after their rescue from circuses in Colombia and Peru. The South African airport rang with their roars as they arrived in their ancestral country for the very first time.

The lions' flight to freedom

The flight was organized by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and according to their president, Jan Creamer, the rescued lions appear to be healthy, if distressed by the long, 15-hour air journey. Creamer told the media the lions had lived a life of “absolute hell,” saying the animals were beaten and have been starved, adding, “They've been deprived of everything that makes life worth living for a lion.” Creamer went on to say that she believes they have brought the lions “back to paradise, where they belong.”

Lions transferred through the night

It was widely reported in the media, that on arrival in South Africa, the lions were then placed on two large trucks, which were set to drive through the night to their new home at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary. The sanctuary which is located in the Limpopo Province of the country is in natural lion habitat.

At dawn on Sunday, the freed lions were released into large, natural enclosures in the big cat sanctuary, right in the heart of the African bush.They will remain in quarantine for some time for veterinary purposes.

Sanctuary expansion

The Independent Online quoted ADI as saying the lion habitats at the sanctuary will be gradually expanded in the coming months as the rescued lions get used to their new life and get to know each other. It will be a drawn out experience for the 33 lions, which were bred in captivity. Reportedly many of the 22 male and 11 female cats have broken teeth, one is virtually blind and another lion has lost one eye. Apparently most of the big cats have had their claws removed, which makes it impossible to release them into the wild, as they would be unable to survive.

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It was reported by The Inquisitr, that it was after both Colombia and Peru outlawed the use of wild animals in circuses that the big cats achieved their freedom. Nine of the lions were flown from Colombia to Lima airport in Peru, where they joined 24 Peruvian circus lions before taking off for their new life in Africa.

It will take time for the lions to settle in their new home

According to Creamer, these lions will experience their natural habitat for the first time in their lives, but she says they should eventually fit right in, as it is the best Environment for the big cats. According to ADI, in their new African home, the lions will have the run of several large, natural enclosures right in the heart of the South African bush and will have access to platforms, drinking pools and toys.

Besides eventually meeting each other, the lions will also gradually be introduced to the "two tigers" and six other rescued lions already living in the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.Talks are in place with ADI for further transfers of lions in the future. The Animal Defenders International has bases in the United States of America, Latin America and in the UK. People across the world have donated funding for the rescue. 

Readers can watch the lions being prepared for their epic flight in the BBC News video hosted on YouTube included below:

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Everything that ennobles the spirit of man is demonstrated by the lion flight to freedom