This poaching incident is made even sadder by José and Liso’s backgrounds. The two lions were part of a group of 33 former circus animals who’d been rescued from illegal circuses in Peru and Colombia in 2014. The rescue operation, which was spearheaded by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and dubbed Operation Spirit of Freedom, relocated the animals to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa early last year, with the expectation they would live out the rest of their days in comfort and safety.
"This cowardly killing of two innocent souls, sweet, elderly lions, one of whom had suffered brain damage from blows to the head in the circus, must not be left unpunished," ADI wrote in a Facebook post.
The rescue mission had taken over a year to organize, and cost about $330,000 just to safely transport the 33 lions to the South African sanctuary — not including the original rescue efforts.