It could almost be a heartwarming tale out of a Disney movie — at least, the sad, tear-jerking kind about circus animals. A group of more than 30 former circus lions have found a new home at a South African sanctuary, according to the BBC.
The rescue and the April 29 relocation by airlift was organized by U.S.-based animal rights group Animal Defenders International (ADI). The 33 lions were surrendered by circuses or seized in raids in Colombia and Peru, where the use of wild animals in circuses has been banned in recent years.
According to ADI, almost all of the lions have been declawed or have had teeth removed, leaving them unable to survive in the wild. Instead, they’ll be brought to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, a 12,355-acre reserve that already houses six other lions and two tigers. There, they’ll have drinking pools, toys, and plenty of space to roam around.
"These lions have endured hell on earth, and now they are heading home to paradise," Jan Creamer, president of ADI, said in a press release. The lions are being slowly introduced to the sanctuary in stages, and as they adjust, will be released into the larger enclosure.
ADI has photos and profiles of each of the 33 lions, as well as links for those cat-lovers who want to donate to their care. As the videos of the released lions rubbing up against trees show — no matter the size, a kitty is always a kitty.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect the number of lions released.