Thirty-three lions removed from circuses in Peru and Colombia will be in Africa by next week, after spending years in South America.
Over two dozen of the lions were rescued from Peruvian circuses during surprise raids organised by Animal Defenders International (ADI) . The group noted that the animals were living in deplorable conditions.
Another nine lions were handed to the group by a Colombian circus.
The rescued lions will be flown back to their homeland to live out the rest of their lives in a private sanctuary in South Africa.
This will be the largest ever airlift of lions and will take place on Friday. The Los Angeles-based group has for years worked with lawmakers in the two South American countries to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, where they often are held in appalling conditions.
The lions suffered in captivity: some were declawed, one lost an eye and many were recovered with broken or rotting teeth.
The group said the first group of nine lions would be collected in the capital, Bogota, on a McDonnell Douglas cargo plane, which would pick up 24 more in Lima before heading to Johannesburg.
The wildlife advocacy group has worked with authorities to crack down on illegal wildlife use and trafficking in order to rescue the animals.