, LIMA, Peru, Apr 29 – A planeload of 33 lions rescued from abuse in Peruvian and Colombian circuses will fly to South Africa Friday in what campaigners call the largest ever airlift of big cats.
The lions, with names such as Zeus and Shakira, were freed after the use of wild animals in circuses was outlawed in Peru in 2011 and Colombia in 2013.
They have been rounded up with the help of authorities by Animal Defenders International (ADI), an animal rights charity.
“It’s truly wonderful that these lions, after a lifetime of suffering and abuse in circuses, are going home to Africa,” said the president of ADI, Jan Creamer.
“All of the lions when they arrive from the circuses have health problems, parasites, disease,” she added.
“All of their lives they haven’t had enough food, so they have long-term malnutrition problems.”
In recent months spent in straw-lined cages in a refuge north of Lima, however, they have been well fed and are in generally good health, she said.
Twenty-four lions rescued in Peru will be driven from their temporary rescue centre to Lima airport to be picked up by a cargo plane that is bringing another nine over from Colombia.
That contingent includes Shakira, named after the Colombian pop singer.
From one of 10 Peruvian circuses also comes “Ricardo, the one-eyed lion” and from another “Joseph, the almost-blind lion.”