Mexican officials sent a malnourished lion cub named Leonardo on a flight to an animal sanctuary in Colorado, the first in what will be a transfer of two dozen big cats and other animals.

Leonardo was rescued from a private owner who had prematurely separated him from his mother to give him as a gift to a young girl.

He was put aboard a U.S.-bound flight Tuesday.

The animals eventually scheduled to be sent to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, include a total of six lions, eight tigers, two leopards, a jaguar, a lynx and a puma. 

Two spider monkeys, a bear, a coyote and a peccary will also be taken to the sanctuary. Most were victims of mistreatment, crowding or abandonment by their owners in Mexico.