From time to time out of all the awful news, we get every day about animal abuse, neglect, etc. this great story evolved, this makes me feel like there is HOPE for change in this world and for animals to live the way they were intended to from the beginning.
In April 2016 thanks to combined efforts of Animal Defenders International, Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, and many other caring, wonderful people, 33 lions who had suffered years of horrific abuse at outlawed circuses in Peru and Colombia are being flown by plane to South Africa to start a new life.
After years of living in squalid cages and facing cruelty at the hands of circus owners, the lions will finally taste freedom at the Emoya Wildlife Sanctuary north of Pretoria. On Friday, April 29th cargo aircraft chartered by Animal Defenders International left from Lima, Peru on a 16 hours journey to Johannesburg, South Africa. The lions – many of them illegally declawed and mutilated – made their trip towards their African paradise.
The massive cat cargo has only been made possible after Colombian and Peruvian governments, banned the use of wild animals in circus acts in the last five years. The operation has been dubbed the Spirit of Freedom and is believed to be one of the biggest transfers of its kind. Colombian circuses voluntarily freed nine captive lions, while 24 had to be retrieved via surprise roundups in Peru.
“These lions have endured hell on earth and now they are heading home to paradise,” ADI President, Jan Creamer said.
The lions will spend the rest of their lives in Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, in an environment that they belong. Founder of the Sanctuary, Savannah Heuser has given an insight into what pleasures await the animals.
“The lions are returning to where they belong. This is their birthright. African sun, African night skies, African bush and sounds, clouds, summer thunderstorms, large enclosures in a natural setting where they can remember who they are,” she said.
The rescued cats were released into ‘bonding’ camps before they enter 5-acre enclosures complete with watering holes and natural vegetation.
What’s it like to witness a liberated lion?
“Magical,” says Tim Phillips, vice president of ADI. “These animals have never, until today, walked on grass and soil, and smelt the ground and soil. When you see them rubbing against the trees, that’s the first time they’ve ever done that”.
Although the big cats have returned to their natural habitat, their life spent abroad — isolated, abused and neglected — needed to be taken into careful consideration for their rehabilitation to be successful.
“These lions are now in their phase one enclosures, where they basically will stay for six months to a year,” confirmed Savannah Heuser, co-owner of the Emoya Cat Sanctuary. “This is their adaption time, which is the most crucial … so they need to be monitored quite closely.”
Since the lions have never had physical contact with their own family, Minunette Heuser, Savannah’s mother and co-founder of the sanctuary, says the next steps involve getting them used to their new environment and slowly reintroducing them to their kin and other lions to see which relationships work out.
Each of the nine enclosures is filled with trees, natural veld, water troughs, and of course, bursting with natural African smells and sounds — all of which are completely unfamiliar to these lions. Their diet won’t include freshly caught prey, as having been born and bred in captivity, stripped of their natural wild instincts, the animals do not possess any type of survival skills such as hunting. Therefore, they will be fed game meat for the rest of their lives.
The lions arrived safely in South Africa and are enjoying their new home, now they finally are where they always belonged. Most of the lions are adapting very well, accept two Rapunzel and Kala, passed away due to botulism toxin. Lions are generally resistant to this kind of bacteria toxin, but since these lions were malnutrition and not fed properly, it affected their immune system. Four lions, Rapunzel, Kala, Coco and Junior in the Colombian pride were struck down by a botulism toxin. Symptoms were first spotted with Rapunzel, Kala and Coco and they were rushed to Dr Peter Caldwell’s state of the art veterinary hospital. Then symptoms were noted in Junior Bucaramanga and he was also sent to the hospital. The veterinary team worked around the clock, with Junior and Coco responding well to treatment but tragically not Kala and Rapunzel. Both of Rapunzel parents died in their cages in Columbia from the same bacterial infection, shortly before the ADI rescue the cats.
Emoya Sanctuary stated “Both took to life at Emoya with the most inspiring enthusiasm – they would joyfully run, play with catnip bags and swing their tires from trees, which makes this news so very sad. We treasure every minute of happiness we have given the lions at Emoya and every day of freedom is precious for them, even if for now, we are all heartbroken that their days in the sun were so few.”
Thank you to ADI, Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, all of the volunteers and people that donated to the cause.Thanks to YOU ALL the beautiful animals are back where they belong and can spend the rest of their lives happy and free of abuse. I know that we can’t change the life of every mistreated and abused animal, I wish we could, but the lives of the ones we do rescue are changed forever. Rescuing even one animal does make it difference, changes the life of this animal forever.
About the author: Mira Alicki is a jewelry designer and goldsmith for the past 22 years. Her passion for animals led her to create her own line of jewelry and online store to benefit charities. 40% of each purchase is donated back to the animal community. You can find Mira on Twitter (@FIMHjewelry) or Forever In My Heart.