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Circus lions reach South Africa sanctuary

Do Not UseDo Not Use 1/05/2016
A crate carrying one of the 33 Lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. © Getty Images A crate carrying one of the 33 Lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

More than 30 lions rescued from circuses in Colombia and Peru have been flown to South Africa to start a new life in a sanctuary.

A crate carrying one of the 33 Lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa.: The lions were flown for more than 15 hours from Peru to Johannesburg airport. © Getty Images The lions were flown for more than 15 hours from Peru to Johannesburg airport.

Reporters said they appeared a little distressed but healthy after their long journey.

A lion looks out from behind the bars of a cage: The animals were carried in crates from the airport to a lorry taking them to the sanctuary © Getty Images The animals were carried in crates from the airport to a lorry taking them to the sanctuary

A circus surrendered some of the lions, while others were seized in raids.

The US-based group Animal Defenders International (ADI), which was behind the action, says almost all the lions have had teeth or claws removed.

They would not survive in the wild.

The lions are being transferred by land to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, a 5,000-hectare reserve in northern South Africa. There, the lions will have drinking pools, platforms, toys and veterinary care.

"This is a hugely important rescue mission because it does make a statement around the world about the way people treat animals," ADI spokeswoman Jan Creamer said.

"These lions have suffered tremendously."

The first group of nine lions was collected in Colombia's capital Bogota on a cargo plane, which then flew to Peru's capital Lima to pick up 24 more animals.

"It will be hugely satisfying to see these lions walking into the African Bush," ADI Vice-President Tom Phillips was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

The lions were freed after the use of wild animals was banned in Peru in 2011 and Colombia in 2013.

The 5,000-hectare (12,355 acres) Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary is on private land and already houses six other rescued lions and two tigers.

The lion habitats there would be steadily expanded over the coming months as the lions became familiar with their new life and were introduced to each other, said ADI.

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