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33 rescue lions arrived at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa on Sunday 1 May 2016. The 33 travelled from Peru to OR Tambo International, Johannesburg, in what was the biggest animal airlift of its kind.

The arrival marked the culmination of ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom, an historic mission launched in 2007 to save wild circus animals in Peru and Colombia, and bring them home.

The 33 will live out the rest of their lives in the natural African habitat of the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, first in separate bonding camps and then in large bush habitats as part of family groups.

Join Emoya in caring for the 33 lions for life. Your donations, contributions and support will help us build their permanent homes, feed and care for the lions, and provide them with the medical attention and ongoing enrichment they need.


Amanda’s story

Amanda Marais was Emoya’s official photographer, documenting the arrival of the 33 lions at OR Tambo International Airport and the release at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary. Here is her story and pictures of the incredible events that unfolded on 30 April and 1 May 2016 as...

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They’re home!

Thanks to the monumental efforts of ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom and all the supporters around the world, 33 lions rescued from circuses in South America have been brought home to Africa. Our lions arrived safely at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg on 30...

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We couldn’t have done it without you

How do you bring 33 lions back home to Africa? With the help of people like you. Thank you Animal Defenders International, thank Jan Creamer, thank you GreaterGood.org, thank you to the many organisations and businesses and individuals around the world who have given...

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Meet the 33 Lions


Africa lives with lionesses Kiara and Muñeca and together they are called the Three Supremes. At the hands of the circus, the three were cooped up in a small, bare cage. Now they are enjoying proper care at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. Soon Africa will live in a...


Amazonas is the mate of Smith and currently lives next to Kiara (Cusco) and her cubs at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. She is very friendly with her neighbours and loves to play with footballs.


Barbie is a playful, happy lion and is called “beautiful lady” by her carers. She has the best table manners – Barbie waits patiently for mealtimes and enjoys every mouthful


Bolillo is much calmer than he used to be when ADI first rescued him. He’s settled in at the ADI rescue centre in Peru but still gets a little grumpy when it’s time to clean his home. Soon he’ll have lots of space to call his own when he arrives at Emoya Big Cat...


Bumba lives with Junior and is the more relaxed of the mischievous duo. The two seem to get their kicks out of weeing on people as they walk past! Bumba and Junior were among the first nine lions rescued in Columbia when the work of ADI’s Stop Circus Suffering...


Chino lives with brothers Coco and Rolex. The three feisty teenage boys love football and can playfully munch through a ball in a matter of seconds. Rolex, Chino and Coco were the first lions to be rescued in Peru during ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom.


Coco lives with brothers Chino and Rolex. The affectionate boys are growing fast and will soon have lovely long manes.


David and his sister Rapunzel were voluntarily handed over by a circus owner in Peru who pledged to go completely animal-free. At the circus they shared a cage, now at the ADI rescue centre in Peru they have a lot more room and toys to call their own. They will be...


Easy currently lives with Shakira at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. Her favourite thing is rolling around in fresh hay. Despite her name she is quite a serious lady.


Just like this name suggests, Iron is cool, calm and collected. He seems to be dreaming of his forever home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary as he can often be seen “running” in his sleep


Jose is a friendly lion who lives very happily alongside Liso.


Joseph is a lovely old boy and has clearly been through a lot in his circus life years. Previously known as just “Blind”, Joseph now has a name and a better life. He lives next to Kala at the ADI rescue centre in Peru and hopes to find a friend at his forever home at...

JUNIOR (Colombia)

Junior is a curious and playful lion. He lives with Bumba and the two are inseparable. They get up to a little mischief together but are also very affectionate towards one another. They cuddle up when they sleep and like to take turns grooming the other.


Junior lives happily with King, a fellow golden oldie. Despite their age, the two were pretty fired up when they first arrived at the ADI rescue centre in Peru but have mellowed a lot.


Kala was taken from her mother as a tiny cub to be put to work in a circus in Peru. Authorities stepped in and, with nowhere else to take her, Kala was given to a local zoo. She was attacked by another lion, losing most of her tail, and was as a result quarantined....

KIARA (Cusco)

During ADI’s rescue operation Kiara was separated from her cubs after the circus in Cusco refused to hand them over. The mother cried nightly but was reunited with the cubs within two weeks after ADI went back to rescue the cubs. She is one happy mum!

KIARA (Plura)

Kiara was rescued by ADI during a dramatic circus raid in the desert along with Africa and Muñeca. It’s very likely that Muñeca is her mom. The three girls live together at the ADI rescue centre in Peru and will also live together at their forever home at the Emoya...


King currently lives with Junior at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. Although he is understandably a little suspicious of people, he is learning to trust again and becoming much more settled and relaxed.


Leo is the granddaddy and one of the oldest lions rescued by ADI during Operation Spirit of Freedom. He has a very charming personality and is rather friendly with the much younger Rapunzel who lives next door. Although he doesn’t have many useful teeth left he loves...


Liso is a gentle and friendly lion. He lives very happily with Josè at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. The two will live together at their forever home at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.


Mahla lives with mom Kiara and brother Scarc, who she likes to boss around! The young pair play chase and go absolutely wild for fast toys, with cat nip balls being their favourite.


Muñeca is believed to be the mother of lionesses Africa and Kiara. They were rescued together from a circus in the dessert where they lived in a tiny cage. The three get on very well and will live together in a large, natural enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.


Ojiclaro has really benefitted from the TLC he has received at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. He’s like a new lion since his rescue, so calm and relaxed, and we’re sure he’s going to love lazy days under the sunny African sky at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.


Rapunzel was part of the Columbian 9 rescued from zoos in Columbia and was rescued along with her brother David. She spent 20 months in freedom, part of which was spent on African soil at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, before succumbing to a botulism toxin on 4 June 2016....

REY (Ayacucho)

Rey lives with his brother Simba at the ADI rescue centre in Peru. The two get on extremely well and spend most of their time playing.

REY (Cusco)

Rey is the head of the Cusco pride, a family that was torn apart when the circus refused to give up Smith and Rey’s son and daughter Scarc and Mahla. ADI went back for them and the pride is together once more at their rescued centre in Peru. The pride will live in a...


Ricardo lives across from fellow old boys King and Junior at the ADI centre in Peru. Sadly Ricardo only has one eye but that doesn’t stop him from getting attention and affection. He likes nothing better than chilling out with his feet in the air.


Rolex is a young, feisty lion but despite his spirited nature can also be very affectionate and loves a cuddle. He lives with brothers Coco and Chino and three can often be seen playing together, especially football.


Scarc and sister Mahla were torn from mom Kiara after the circus refused to give them up. Now together again, the family are clearly content. The young lions are upbeat and active, enjoying fast toys and made games of chase.


Shakira lives with Easy and has a calm as well as curious nature. Her tyre is her favourite play activity with watermelon and pumpkin play treats coming a close second.


Simba lives with brother Rey and the two get on famously. When they are not cozied up having a snooze, the duo can usually be found playing around.


Smith was a circus lion that had been castrated, declawed and separated from his mate. After attacking a teacher during an incredibly irresponsible act by the circus he was destined for execution. ADI begged for his life and was reunited with his pride. Despite his...


Zeus may look a little grumpy but he’s actually a lovely lion, and so serene – until cleaning time that is, when he tries to bite the water jets! He’s also a super snorer, though that doesn’t seem to bother his neighbours much!

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