Former ‘Train Tigers’ settled in one year after their intercontinental journey from Argentina to South Africa

Former ‘Train Tigers’ settled in one year after their intercontinental journey from Argentina to South Africa

FOUR PAWS rescued four tigers in 2022 after more than 15 years in a train carriage


Vienna, 9 March 2023 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS is celebrating a special anniversary this March: One year ago, the organisation successfully accomplished its first-ever rescue mission in South America. Tigers Mafalda, Gustavo, Messi and Sandro had been stuck in a train carriage in Argentina for over 15 years, without any possibility to live out behaviours natural to their species. On 12 March 2022, they arrived safely at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, after many logistical challenges and a journey of over 70 hours between multiple continents.

One year later, the tigers have settled in well in their new home and are developing their individual personalities more and more.

“These animals are so resilient. After they received special care and rehabilitation at LIONSROCK for a year now, they have become relaxed and have grown into their personalities. When they first arrived, everything was new to them – the grass, the plants, the sky above, the ground beneath, and all the smells and tastes. At first, we were worried about the oldest tiger, Sandro, because of his age and some health issues, but just like the other three, he adapted really well to the new environment. Due to the substandard conditions they were living in all their life, it is not surprising that they have health issues. But luckily what we found so far is manageable with regular observations and special dietary supplements. They all enjoy roaming around the spacious enclosures and living out natural behaviours,” says Hildegard Pirker, Head of Animal Welfare at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary.

“Finally, these big cats can live a tiger-worthy life. It is fantastic to see them comfortable and at home in the natural surroundings of LIONSROCK, living healthy and happy lives. Meeting them for the first time in the train carriage, knowing how long they had been confined to that space, was heartbreaking but seeing them do so well now gives me hope. With our solution-oriented approach, we could give Mafalda, Sandro, Messi, and Gustavo a better life, and we strive to do so for as many other animals around the world as possible as well. We have continued discussions with the Argentinian authorities and are ready to support them with our animal welfare expertise, finding long-term solutions for exotic big cats and other issues concerning animals in the region.” 

Luciana D’Abramo, Chief Development Officer at FOUR PAWS

Stuck in a train carriage for over 15 years

For over 15 years, the four tigers were living in a 75m² train carriage. Being confined to such a small space and not being able to live out natural behaviours like roaming around, running, bathing or playing had affected their mental and physical wellbeing.

When representatives of the responsible wildlife authority encountered the inferior living conditions of the big cats during an inspection visit in 2021, they began looking for solutions, knowing they could not rehome the tigers locally. As soon as FOUR PAWS learned about the case, they offered their support and expertise in wild animal rescues and relocations to the authorities.

After weeks of preparations, the experienced team of FOUR PAWS 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 that brought them to the airport. Two days later, they felt grass under their paws for the first time at their new forever home.

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.


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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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