It was called Operation Spirit of Freedom. It was the biggest animal rescue of its kind in the world. The campaign by UK-based Animal Defenders International (ADI) along with local authorities in Peru and Colombia was to rescue 33 lions used in circuses and get them back to their familiar “home”. An MD-11 freighter airlifted the roaring lions from Lima in Peru to Johannesburg before they were left free at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.
After months in the planning, Network Airline Managements’ (NAM) charter department operated a flight carrying 33 lions from Lima in Peru to Johannesburg in South Africa. The flight operated with one of NAM’s wet-leased Western Global Airlines MD11Fs, chartered by leading US broker The Charter Store and their partner, Priority Worldwide Services, on behalf of ADI.
The operation began in Bogota, Colombia on 29th April where 9 rescued lions were loaded and then flew south to Lima, Peru where an additional 24 lions were loaded during a two hour stop. The MD11F departed from Lima and made a short technical stop at Viracopos in Brazil to refuel and change crew. From Viracopos the flight routed to Johannesburg arriving the following day. Big cats were then loaded onto trucks for the final part of their long journey to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary where they will enjoy rest of their life.
“After flying for more than 15 hours, the big cats were remarkably calm after such a long journey,” said Tim Phillips, co-founder of ADI.
NAM’s charter team, led by Commercial Manager Sam Lindsey, meticulously arranged all aspects of the charter along with NAM Operations, Western Global Airlines, and The Charter Store, ensuring the flight operated as scheduled and the lions arrived safely.
The Charter Store co-founder Rusty Durden was an “ear witness” to the sound when he saw the airplane off from Bogota on its first leg. “One word - unbelievable,” he describes. “The warehouse walls were literally shaking as were naturally the ground team. Nine lions roaring at once is pretty intimidating. I can’t imagine the sound of 33 of them on the airplane!”
In terms of the overall project term, the actual air segment was indeed the shortest, albeit very critical part of an arduous journey that began eighteen months ago. The Charter Store and its team had been involved since the project’s early stages, volunteering their time, expertise and resources to make this trip a success.
“In the 25 years I’ve been in this charter business, this stands head and shoulders above as a genuine ‘feel good’ endeavor. Some things you do just because they are the right thing to do—and this project was it for sure,” said Harry Steiner, Managing Director, The Charter Store.