An uplifting video recently released by Animal Defenders International (ADI) shows the rehabilitation and recovery of 40 lions and tigers rescued from circuses in Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala in 2019 and 2020.

After enduring a lifetime of confinement and mistreatment, the animals relocated to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa, where they experienced freedom and a natural habitat for the first time. Now, the big cats are thriving in their new surroundings.

The video footage of the big cats’ year in review shows the animals frolicking in waving grasses, learning to use elevated platforms, and even playing with carved jack-o-lanterns provided to them in October. The animals also lounge in pools with clean water or groom themselves in the sunshine.

Animals rescued from circuses often are too psychologically and physically damaged to return to the wild. The lions and tigers at ADI’s 455-acre sanctuary have ample space and an environment of grasses, trees, flowers, and wildlife, allowing them to engage in natural behaviors and live largely uninterrupted by human activity.

Saving the big cats was a major undertaking that required immense dedication and resources, the nonprofit said in a press release.

In one specific mission titled “Operation Liberty,” ADI rescued a dozen lions and five tigers — helping Guatemalan authorities enforce a ban on circus animals that went into effect in 2018. Rescuers scrambled to meet an unexpected last-minute deadline to airlift the animals out of the country and embark on a 34-hour journey through Mexico, Belgium, and Qatar before finally reaching the South African sanctuary.

As this heartwarming footage shows, the work is worth the reward as once-ailing circus survivors are now living their best lives. Most importantly, they will never again suffer the cruel confines of circus captivity.