Lions Transported From Zoos to African Sanctuary

02 March 2016 | Conservation & Education Oakland Zoo News Release

Oakland, CA – After a nine-year battle with private circus owners in Peru and Columbia, non-profit Animal Defenders International (ADI) has rescued thirty-three lions and secured a forever home for them at a sanctuary in Africa. The effort to return these lions to their native land marks the largest-ever airlift of its kind.

After suffering years of confinement in barren cages and a brutal life being forced to perform, the lions are heading to huge, natural habitats at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Since 2007, ADI worked in tandem with the governments of Peru and Colombia to eliminate the use of wild animals in circuses.

Almost all of the rescued lions have been de-clawed and many have smashed and broken teeth as a result of their circus life. Oakland Zoo, with a long-standing position against animals in circuses and actively involved in recent legislation that led to Ringling Bros. decision to retire elephants from its shows, was contacted by ADI recently for any help the Zoo could offer in the transportation costs of the lions to Africa.

Oakland Zoo has pledged $10,000 to aid in ADI’s rescue effort and hopes (see below) to be able to collect additional donations in support of the lions’ flight cost to the South African sanctuary.

“ADI is so grateful to Oakland Zoo for their generous sponsorship of one of the 33 ex-circus lions on our Spirit of Freedom flight from Peru to South Africa. This large-scale animal rescue will have a lasting impact – after such sad, painful lives, new laws in Peru and Colombia have set these animals and others, free. Thanks to the generosity of the public and organizations like Oakland Zoo, these lions will soon be back where they belong, living in their natural habitat, under the African sun. Please help buy tickets for more lions to join this once-only flight to freedom,” said Jan Creamer, ADI President and leader of the rescue mission in Peru.

A total of $330,000 ($10,000 per lion) is needed to charter a 747 airliner, large enough to accommodate the thirty-three lions and necessary ADI staff. “We are so excited to support ADI in the transport of thirty-three rescued lions to sanctuary in Africa. Having spent their lives in terrible captive conditions, forced to perform, abused, and neglected they will finally have the opportunity to live out their lives with peace and dignity. Please donate whatever you can to help transport these majestic animals to their forever home,” said Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation & Research at Oakland Zoo.

Oakland Zoo has started a separate fund via PayPal in the hopes of collecting additional donations for the rescue, titled “Operation Spirit Freedom.” Please click on the button below to donate to this fund.

See ABC’s coverage of the rescue on Nightline

Photos and biographies of the lions

About “Operation Spirit Freedom”


The Bay Area’s award-winning Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic animals. The Zoo offers many educational programs and kid’s activities perfect for science field trips, family day trips and exciting birthday parties. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and wildlife conservation onsite and worldwide; with 25¢ from each ticket donated to support conservation partners and programs around the world. The California Trail, a transformational project that more than doubles our size, opens in 2018, and will further our commitment to animal care, education, and conservation with a focus on this state’s remarkable native wildlife. Nestled in the Oakland Hills, in 500-acre Knowland Park, the Zoo is located at 9777 Golf Links Road, off Highway 580. The East Bay Zoological Society (Oakland Zoo) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization supported in part by members, contributions, the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Parks.


With offices in London, Los Angeles, Lima and Bogota, ADI campaigns across the globe on animals in entertainment, providing technical advice to governments, securing progressive animal protection legislation, drafting regulations and rescuing animals in distress. ADI has a worldwide reputation for providing video and photographic evidence exposing the behind-the-scenes suffering in industry and supporting this evidence with scientific research on captive wildlife and transport. ADI rescues animals all over the world, educates the public on animals and environmental issues.


Erin Harrison, Senior Manager,
Marketing & PR
Rowena Balwit, Animal Defenders
(510) 632-9525 ext. 130 (323) 935 2234

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