Watch a Freed Circus Lion Feel Real Dirt on His Paws for the First Time

An animal kept in captivity for more than a decade enjoys the simple pleasure of running.
May 26, 2015·
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

After spending 13 years as a circus attraction carted in a small cage from city to city, Will the lion got to feel real earth under his paws.

In this video, you see the big cat anxiously await the opening of its metal cage and then excitedly dig through dirt, roll around on green grass, and awkwardly gallop in its new enclosure.

Thanks to the efforts of Ranchos dos Gnomos Santuário in Brazil, it’s the closest semblance to the wild Will ever experienced. The animal sanctuary houses domestic and exotic animals rescued from abusive owners, circus operations, and wildlife traffickers.

The footage was shot in 2006 but wasn’t put online until this month, and it became a viral feel-good hit. Will the lion died in 2011, but not before getting to enjoy a taste of what being a lion is all about.

“He had five years of tranquility before he died,” Gnomos Santuário founder Marcos Pompeo told The Dodo. “Here he had the opportunity to interact with other lions. He loved to lie in grass and look at the sky. He was a very happy lion.”

So, Why Should You Care? Will’s experience is another example of the negative impact circus life can have on wildlife. Changing public sentiment has resulted in cities and counties across the United States banning wild and exotic animal performances. Earlier this year, Ringling Bros. announced the phasing out of its Asian elephant shows, but it will continue using tigers, horses, dogs, and other wild animals in performances.