Thirty-three lions boarded a record-breaking flight to a South African sanctuary after they were reportedly rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia.
As the plane touched down in Johannesburg, the lions could be heard "bellowing out a huge roar that echoed through the aircraft," as if in celebration of their new-found freedom, according to Animal Defenders International.
This was the first time so many lions had been transported by air, according to ADI. The founder of the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Johannesburg even called the lions' journey to Africa their "birth-right."
Iron, one of the nine Colombian lions on the flight, was the first to step into the sanctuary and immediately rubbed against a tree.
"These animals had never felt grass beneath their feet, or the sun over their heads," ADI President Jan Creamer said.
During an 18-month mission, the animals were rescued from inhumane circus conditions in Peru and Colombia after new regulations on circuses and performing acts were passed, according to ADI.
When the lions were rescued, many had been declawed and had broken teeth, while others had been bred in captivity, ADI said. They were deemed unfit to return to be released into the wild so they were instead transported to their forever home at the sanctuary.
Among the animals, 24 lions were rescued from Peru and nine from Colombia. According to ADI, each animal cost about $10,000 to rescue, which was funded by donations.
The donated chartered flight brought the Colombian lions from Bogota to Lima, where the remaining 24 lions were then loaded onto the flight. After some minor delays, the group then left on a 15-hour journey to Johannesburg.
Several representatives from ADI, including a veterinarian, were on the flight to monitor the lions, who traveled in individual crates.
In the coming months, the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary will ease them into living in their new home with bonding activities, which includes re-introducing them to their families.