Later this year, Smith and the 32 other lions will travel on a chartered Boeing 747 from the holding facility in Lima to Johannesburg, South Africa, and onto the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, a 12,000-acre facility where the goal is to reintroduce Smith to his former mate, Amazonas. This will be the biggest airlift of its kind, according to organizers. The sanctuary is on a private estate in Limpopo, the northernmost province in the country, and is closed to the public. It also has a no-breeding policy.
Still to come: constructing large, natural habitats and enclosures for these lions—another major expense. Phillips says all the challenges in rescuing and placing these animals have been worth it: “When you see Smith being so playful, you think if you had just taken the easy option, he would have just lived and died in that circus cage.”