Big cats rescued from circuses taken to South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA – Rescue mission “Operation Liberty” has saved 21 tigers and lions from circuses in Guatemala.

Now, 17 of those big cats will be arriving at a secret sanctuary in South Africa and CNN has been invited to witness their release.

The first scent of a new home, and for these rescued circus tigers their last moments were spent confined.

One tiger had been stuck in this cage for more than 36 hours, but it has lived in cages like this its entire life - brutalized for the entertainment of humans.

For Animal Defenders International, it was one of their most complicated rescues - 12 tigers and 5 lions in total. 18 months of struggle in Guatemala, in a 30-year fight to ban animal circuses globally. So far, 45 countries including Guatemala have.

“You imagine because of the performance, that the animal is enjoying themselves and behind the curtain we are able to show that that couldn’t be more untrue,” said Jan Creamer, founder, animal defenders international.

But rescued cats are costly and ADI hopes that this new dedicated facility in South Africa will be an incentive for more governments to follow suit.

The handlers carefully unload the first of a family of tigers. Most had their claws ripped out as cubs, some had their canines sawed down by circus trainers, but they’re still tigers.

Exactly why, they say, they should have never been caged to begin with. Now taking its first tentative steps to a new life.