By Muhammed Ali Gurtas
ANKARA (AA) – Turkey’s flag carrier helped rescue four former circus lions from a boxed-in life, carrying them home to a vast natural habitat in South Africa, Turkish Airlines announced Sunday.
“Turkish Cargo has brought three young lionesses Luca, Charlie, Kai and young lion Nathan to South Africa, their natural habitat, from Kiev via a connecting flight from Istanbul,” the airline said in a statement marking March 3, World Wildlife Day.
The big cats were whisked home by Turkish Cargo, a division of Turkish Airlines which offers cargo services to 124 countries.
In Ukraine’s capital, the lions had lived poor lives, deprived of direct sunlight and clean air, said the airline, confined to concrete and steel cage of just 35 square meters (377 square feet), far from their natural habitat.
The lions were saved by the Lawrence Anthony World Organization (LAEO) — a group that champions animal rights — said Turkish Airlines.
The queens and kings of the jungle were transported in specially designed containers, and their nutritional needs were also met along the way, added the statement.
During the flight they were accompanied by their keepers, special veterinarians, and authorities from the LAEO and Turkish Cargo personnel certified in transporting live animals, it said.
After a marathon flight of almost 9,000 kilometers (5,592 mi.), the lions were set free at Kragga Kamma Game Park on South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
The lions’ new home is a natural habitat offering green coastal forest and meadows extending along 14,000 square meters (nearly 150,700 square feet).
“Having ratified the United For Wildlife Declaration in 2017 for the purpose of preventing illegal wildlife trade and increasing the industrial awareness thereto, Turkish Airlines has highlighted its cognizance of the live animal transportation processes and animal rights,” the company said.
Turkish Airlines, founded in 1933, flies to more than 300 destinations in over 120 countries with its fleet of 336 aircraft, including passenger and cargo planes.
Last year, the company carried 75.2 million passengers with a seat occupancy rate of 82 percent, and this year aims to reach 80 million passengers on domestic and international routes.