Activists rescued 33 lions from 10 circuses in Peru and Colombia and will airlift the cats to a sanctuary in South Africa’s Limpopo province in the biggest operation ever of its kind, Animal Defenders International said.

The lions, which were confined to cages, will be flown from Lima to Johannesburg on a chartered Boeing 747 in October and then to the 5,000-hectare (12,355-acre) Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in the country’s north, the welfare organization said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. Almost all of the lions have had their claws removed and many have broken teeth.

“Their lives were forcibly wasted away in horrific tiny cages, the doing of mindless circus acts,” Savannah Heuser, founder of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary, said in the statement. “They have a lot of lost time to make up for.”

The activist group has worked with the governments of Peru and Colombia to stop the use of wild animals in circuses.

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