An animal-loving couple are in Bolivia completing the last leg of a desperate mission to save 25 lions from the cruelty of animal circuses.

Operation Lion Ark will be the biggest airlift rescue of lions ever seen, and Walton husband and wife Jan Creamer, 58, and Tim Phillips, 49, are right at the centre of it.

In one case, eight lions spent their days crammed into a barren cage no bigger than two double beds, only leaving their prison for 10 minutes a day to perform.

Mrs Creamer is the co-founder of Animal Defenders International's which seized the big cats from neglectful owners in November and December last year.

They are now ready to be taken to their new home at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

Among them are three cubs who were extremely malnourished when they were rescued from a circus at just seven-weeks old.

Mrs Creamer said: "They were born into misery, but they will grow up free. They will be the last animals to appear in a Bolivian circus show."

The couple have invested years of hard work to help the animals after months of undercover work exposed cramped living conditions and savage treatment.

As a direct result of this investigation, the Bolivian government decided to place a ban on the use of animals, both wild and domestic, in circuses and gave them a year to go animal free.

Those that refused had their animals seized.

As well as lions, six monkeys, a coati mundi, a deer and a horse were rescued from eight different circuses across the country.

They have now been returned to the wild or relocated by the authorities.

Mr Phillips said: "The mission has been an absolute success and the most important thing about the rescue is that people will be made aware of the suffering in circuses and that lions don't belong there.

“Huge animals are expected to live their lives in the back of lorries and in that environment they can have no environmental enrichment. These magnificent animals will now live out the rest of their days in an 80 acre enclosure in the US. They were born into misery, but they will grow up free.”