The Americas

South Africa: Rescued lions explore new home in sanctuary

  • A former circus lion bites a tree branch inside an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. 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. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

    A former circus lion bites a tree branch inside an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. 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. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)  (The Associated Press)

  • A former circus lion scratches its head against a tree inside an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. 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. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

    A former circus lion scratches its head against a tree inside an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. 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. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)  (The Associated Press)

  • A former circus lion look on prior to being released into an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. 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. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

    A former circus lion look on prior to being released into an enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, northern, South Africa, Sunday, May 1, 2016. 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. The operation is the largest ever airlift of lions, organized and paid for by Animal Defenders International. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)  (The Associated Press)

Lions rescued from circuses in Colombia and Peru and airlifted to South Africa are exploring their new territory of bush grasses and trees after being released into a sanctuary north of Johannesburg.

One of the 33 lions, a male known as Zeus, let out a mighty roar before stepping out of his cage into an enclosure where he will spend the coming months being monitored by a vet.

The lions arrived at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary shortly after dawn on Sunday to end a two-day journey from South America.

It will be impossible for the lions to survive in the wild as they were bred in captivity and their circus owners mutilated many by breaking their teeth and removing their claws.