Argentinian Train Tigers arriving at LIONSROCK

From Argentina to South Africa: ‘Train Tigers’ Feel Grass Under Their Paws for the First Time

FOUR PAWS transfers­ four rescued tigers to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary 


13 March 2022 – Four Bengal tigers – the former ‘train tigers’ – that spent over 15 years stuck in a train carriage in San Luis province in Argentina, have arrived at their new home at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa on 12 March. Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS rescued the tigers from their long confinement after weeks of tireless efforts and close cooperation with the Argentinian and South African authorities, and transferred them to its species-appropriate big cat sanctuary.

Getting the tigers out of the train carriage, into the transport crates and on a truck to the airport, was a logistical challenge that the experienced team mastered without complications. Now Sandro, Mafalda, Messi and Gustavo have arrived well at their new forever home after a journey of over 70 hours. The experienced team at LIONSROCK will make sure they can relax and adjust to the new surroundings. This marks the first rescue mission FOUR PAWS conducted in South America.

After a FOUR PAWS team of veterinarians and wildlife experts spent weeks on-site to prepare the tigers with positive reinforcement, so the transfer would be as safe and smooth as possible not only for the animals but also from a logistics side, all four tigers have arrived well in South Africa. While Mafalda took a little time before she left her transport crate, Sandro, Messi and Gustavo started to explore the new surroundings almost immediately.

“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. 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. They were already curious, exploring their temporary adaption enclosures and making careful first steps on the so far unfamiliar ground. I am proud that we have brought all four tigers safely to South Africa. Now the mission is complete and I am handing them over into the care of my colleagues at LIONSROCK,” 

says FOUR PAWS veterinarian Dr Amir Khalil, who led the rescue mission and transfer of the tigers to South Africa.

“The road to rehabilitation for these animals now begins,” says Hildegard Pirker, who manages LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary. “In the coming days and weeks, LIONSROCK will closely monitor the four tigers' medical needs and determine the veterinary care they need.”

FOUR PAWS cares for rescued big cats in a species-appropriate environment at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, yet many other big cats around the world face a tragic fate. Pirker continues, "The exploitation of big cats for commercial gain fuels an industry that could lead to the future of the species being behind bars.”


LIONSROCK: A home for over 100 rescued big cats in South Africa

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 highest standards including large areas for family groups, facilitation of natural behaviour through enrichment and highest standards of medical care as well as highest 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. 

Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation 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 organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS 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, France, 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.

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