Tigers kept in train for 15 years in Argentina feel grass for the first time

Tiger walks out of cage onto green, animal news
Tiger Gustavo is released at Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary, South Africa, photo: Four Paws/Daniel Born

The four Bengal tigers, who lived 15 years in a train carriage in Argentina, have arrived at their new home in South Africa.

Animal welfare organization Four Paws rescued Sandro, Mafalda, Messi and Gustavo from their cages and transferred them to Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary.

Veterinarians of Four Paws spent weeks on-site to prepare the tigers with positive reinforcement so that the transfer would be as safe as possible for the animals.

“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 behaviour. Our team needed to be around them so they would stay calm in our presence and during the transfer,” Four Paws veterinarian Amir Khalil, who led the rescue mission, said.

The tigers had to be taken out of their cages, moved into transport crates and on a truck to the airport, flown from Argentina to South Africa, and taken off the airport on trucks to their new home, Lionsrock. The total journey took more than 70 hours.

At Lionsrock, Mafalda took a little time before leaving her transport crate, but the three other tigers started to explore the new surroundings almost immediately, Four Paws said.

“These tigers have never felt grass or earth under their paws. It’s the first time they can see the sky above them, not just metal bars and a roof,” Khalil said.

“Now they have hundreds of square meters full of new feelings, tastes and smells. It is overwhelming for them to be in a completely new environment, but animals are quick at adapting to better living conditions,” he added.

“The road to rehabilitation for these animals now begins,” Hildegard Pirker, who manages Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary, said. In the coming days, the four tigers will be monitored closely to determine what veterinary care they need.

Family of four
In 2007, a travelling circus abandoned the 18-year old male and 15-year-old female tiger in a train carriage in San Luis province in the west of Argentina. The circus asked a local farmer to temporarily take care of them, but never returned. The animals remanined in the train carriage and had two babies.

In 2021, Argentinian authorities became aware of the bad living conditions of the tigers and began looking for solutions for the animals.

There are only around 3,900 tigers left in the wild, Four Paws said, adding that due to a lack of regualtions, tigers are kept in captivity and traded around the world for human entertainment and killed for their skin, fur, bones, and teeth.

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