South Africa: Rescued lions explore new home in sanctuary

A former circus lion scratches its head against a tree inside an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. Thirty-three lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia are heading back to their homeland to live out the rest of their lives in a private sanctuary in South Africa. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Vaalwater, South Africa (AP) — Lions rescued from circuses in Colombia and Peru and airlifted to South Africa scratched their manes on trees and explored their new territory in the African bush after being released into a sanctuary north of Johannesburg Sunday.

One of the 33 lions, a male known as Zeus, let out a mighty roar before stepping out of his cage into an enclosure where he will spend the coming months being monitored by a vet.

PHOTO GALLERY:

The lions arrived at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary shortly after dawn on Sunday to end a two-day journey from South America.

The lions were freed after the use of wild animals in circuses was outlawed in Peru and Colombia.

It will be impossible for the lions to survive in the wild as they were bred in captivity and their circus owners mutilated many by breaking their teeth and removing their claws. Because they cannot hunt they will be fed game meat and will have water in their enclosures.

“They are remarkably calm after such a long journey,” Tim Phillips, the co-founder of Animal Defenders International which led the rescue of the lions told The Associated Press.”It was a dream come true watching them step of those cages into their new homes in the African bush.”

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