Abused Circus Lions Finally Get Their First-Ever Taste Of Freedom

Let’s all go to the circus! It’s all so exciting. The sounds of laughter and joy. The smells of popcorn and fair foods.

And the animals. Oh! The animals. All so well-trained and happy looking.

Except… are they? When you look behind the scenes of the average circus you find stories far different than the ones we all believed when we were kids.


Every animal you see looks like they’re content to be in the limelight making humans happy. The reality, though, is that the way most circus animals live would horrify most of us.

For a long and miserable eight years, Sonja the lioness and her sister, Maggie, were trapped in the Zircus Las Vegas, a German circus company. There, they were forced to stand on their hind legs and chase pieces of meat dangled in front of their faces to the delight of noisy crowds.

Their cages were cramped and uncomfortable and neither ever had the chance to stretch out and run. Their lives were simply an existence. Until one day something terrible happened.

Whether from a training injury, a bite from another animal, or perhaps being slammed in a cage door, the tip of Maggie’s tail became infected. Considering the amount of personal care given to each animal, this could have been a death sentence for Maggie.

Pure luck

Luckily, although there are no laws keeping animals from traveling with a circus, there are laws about the need for proper medical care. Some illnesses can be transferred to humans, so vets must be available for any type of illness or injury to any animal on the circus property.

German officials took the report of Maggie’s injury seriously. They informed the circus owner that Maggie would would need proper medical care.

Several inspections later, and the wound was still infected. As a result, Maggie, Sonja, and two other tigers were finally removed from the circus owner’s care.


Maggie’s tail had become so seriously infected that part of it had to be removed. As horrible as that sounds, it is actually the best thing that could have happened. Maggie could still lead a normal life, but it was grounds for the circus owner to have charges filed against him. As a result, the animals would not be returned to him. Ever.

Maggie and Sonja were transported to Belgian wildlife center Natuurhulpcentrum, where Maggie was able to recover in a comfortable environment. Still, everyone knew they’d be happier somewhere else. And where else could make a lion happier than their home nation, Africa!


With the help of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, the sisters were taken to Shamwari, a big cat sanctuary in South Africa. There, they’d be able to finally roam free in an enormous enclosure. The two cats would never have to suffer at the hands of cruel circus trainers again.

The trip took them on trains, planes, and trucks over two continents, but at long last, they arrived. The team that brought them could tell the animals’ moods improved as soon as they set their eyes on the sprawling land.

The appeared to not be able to believe their good fortune. After so many years in captivity, it took Maggie and Sonja a little while to realize they could run and lounge in their natural habitat. They had endured eight hard years in the circus, and this was the first time they’d finally be able to live a stress-free life with each other.


When they first arrived at Shamwari, Maggie would take food to Sonja,” Born Free Foundation rescue coordinator Tricia Holford said in an interview. “She would eat a little bit of the portion and then when Sonja looked at her, she would leave that portion for her and would walk to get the other one. Then they would eat together.”

Rescuers are unsure exactly what prompted that particular behavior. However, they are fairly certain it was something unpleasant in the cats’ memories.

For the first time, the girls could pick and choose their own friends. They immediately chose Jerry, a lion who was rescued from a circus in Romania! The sisters became instant friends with the enormous male cat.

Sonja and Maggie are finally where they belong! Even though they’ll never be able to fully return to the wild, the enclosure at Shamwari must feel like heaven to them.

Share this story with your friends, and remind them to never support a circus that includes animal acts. Check out the Born Free Foundation on Facebook to find out how you can help animals like Maggie and Sonja and their new best friend Jerry.

Every animal deserves a home where it can be happy. Thankfully, Sonja, Maggie and Jerry, as well as hundreds of other rescued circus animals now have found that home.

Source: Honest to Paws

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Kim Hays

Written by Kim Hays

Kimberly has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. Her mantra is, write, proofread, rewrite, bang head on desk, then edit. If you’ve ever written anything on a deadline, you can relate

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