LOS ANGELES – Twenty-five lions rescued from circuses in Bolivia under a law banning the use of wild animals for public shows arrived in their new open-air home in the United States on Wednesday, organizers said.
The 13 male and 12 female lions arrived in Denver, Colorado after being transported in special cages on a cargo flight from the south American country, said The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Upon arrival at Denver International Airport the animals were transported in specially built rescue trailers to the sanctuary, located 48 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Denver, and released one by one into each of the eight temporary 1,400 square foot enclosures.
"As each lion entered their new home they felt grass on their toes for the first time ever," said the sanctuary.
"The lions were kept in the family groups they were rescued with and after close observation will be released into four different prides in 20 acre habitats with underground dens, shade structures and play structures to help them with enrichment and exercise," they added.
The animals were brought from Bolivia by Animal Defenders International (ADI), which said its "Operation Lion Ark" was "the biggest rescue and airlift of lions ever seen."
ADI president Jan Creamer said the "truly remarkable beasts" were rescued "from their terrible conditions in the Bolivian circuses," with many malnourished, stressed and traumatized by their experiences.
The group helped nurse the animals back to health before the transfer.
"All 25 of these 'bravehearts' thoroughly deserve the life that awaits them in Colorado," Creamer said. "They will have acres to roam in and at last they will be allowed to be lions as nature intended. At last they will be free."
During the rescue ADI also seized six monkeys, a coati mundi (a member of the raccoon family), a deer and a horse, all of which were given to Bolivian sanctuaries or released back into the wild.
ADI said the effort began with its undercover investigation that exposed "horrific abuse in circuses across South America."