BUENOS AIRES - MARCH 11 2022 – Four tigers, Sandro, Mafalda, Gustavo, and Messi, have spent over 15 years stuck in a train carriage in San Luis Province, Argentina. FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organization, successfully rescued the now-dubbed “Train Tigers” on March 9, 2022. The experienced team of veterinarians and wildlife experts managed the logistical challenge of getting the four tigers out of the train carriage, into the transport crates, and on a truck, all in a matter of hours.
Currently, all four tigers are en route to South Africa, where they will find a species-appropriate home at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, which is run by FOUR PAWS. It is here that these big cats will set foot on grass for the first time in their lives.
In preparation for the rescue, the team worked tirelessly for months to find a new home for the tigers and prepare them for the transfer. Dr. Amir Khalil, mission leader and FOUR PAWS veterinarian, and his team, acquired permits, coordinated logistics with the local authorities in Argentina and South Africa, ensured the transport crates are best equipped for the long journey, and even trained the big cats. By using positive reinforcement to encourage the tigers enter the transport crates voluntarily on the rescue day, the team minimized the potential risk of anesthesia.
“These tigers spent over 15 years in the same 75m² space, surrounded by the same landscape and without any stimulation of their instincts or natural behavior. Our team needed to be around them so they would stay calm in our presence and during the transfer. It was and still is a stressful situation for the animals but we made them as comfortable as possible. For us, the wellbeing of the animals always comes first. We put soft floors, air holes, and water containers in the transport crates and will check on them during the flight layover. The team will keep a particularly close eye on the oldest tiger because of his advanced age,”
FOUR PAWS veterinarian Dr Amir Khalil, who leads the rescue mission
The rescue of the four tigers marks the first FOUR PAWS rescue mission in South America. Luciana D’Abramo, Chief Development Officer at FOUR PAWS, who is Argentinian herself, explained, “We are grateful for all the work the Argentinian authorities, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, and our local partners have put into making sure the tigers can finally find a species-appropriate home. We hope this good cooperation will lead to a lasting relationship which will help us save the lives of as many animals as possible, in Argentina and worldwide.”
The tiger’s destination, LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, one of eleven wild animal sanctuaries established by FOUR PAWS, near Bethlehem, South Africa is home to over 100 animals, most of which are big cats rescued by FOUR PAWS from war-ravaged zoos, circuses, private ownership, and the canned hunting industry. The sanctuary provides a species-appropriate, lifelong home for the mistreated big cats who cannot be released back into the wild.
The habitat offers large areas for family groups, facilitation of natural behavior through enrichment, high standards of medical care and security standards of enclosures. In LIONSROCK, hunting, trading, or breeding of big cats is strictly prohibited. Moreover, interactions between wild animals and visitors are prohibited as well.
During the preparation process for the rescue, the FOUR PAWS team gave names to the tigers with the help of their online community. The aim was to give all four tigers names with relevance to the country they come from – Argentina. The majority of votes decided that one of the younger male tigers will be called ‘Messi’, after the famous football player, Lionel Messi. The FOUR PAWS team has already extended an invitation to tiger Messi’s human namesake to visit him and his companions at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need, and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.fourpawsusa.org