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LIMA, Peru (CBSMiami/AP) — Thirty-three lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia are heading back to their homeland to live out the rest of their lives in a private sanctuary in South Africa.

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The largest-ever airlift of lions was organized by Animal Defenders International. The Los Angeles-based group has for years worked with lawmakers in the two countries to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, where they often are held in appalling conditions.

The long journey began Thursday in Colombia where a caravan carrying the first nine lions departed the city of Bucaramanga for a 14-hour drive to Bogota’s international airport. From there, they were loaded onto a cargo plane and flown to Peru’s capital to pick up the remaining 24.

The lions are due to land on Saturday at Johannesburg’s international airport.

According to The Telegraph, most of the lions, whose names include Barbie, Zeus and Rolex, had been declawed in their circuses and many had broken or smashed teeth, making it unsafe for them to return to the wild.

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The lions’ flight from South America to South Africa will cost roughly $10,000 per cat, raised through donations and online fundraising.

After being checked out by a veterinarian in Johannesburg, the cats will be moved to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in northern Limpopo province, already home to six lions and two Siberian tigers.

The sanctuary, which is located on private land, started four years ago as a non-profit, and is not open to the public.

Just last week, on Friday April 22nd, a tiger named Hoover who was rescued from a circus in Peru, was flown to Miami then driven to Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary.

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